Home. This simple word can take on greater resonance when people are forced to uproot and make their way to a new country. And while immigration is often associated with cities like New York or Los Angeles, it's happening all across the United States, where people leave behind their homes to take up life as new Americans.
It was these people, and their stories, that inspired artist Nancy Ann Coyne‘s public art installation Speaking of Home. For the project, immigrants were asked to lend precious family photos, which were then blown up and displayed in the windows of pedestrian bridges called the skyways in Saint Paul, Minnesota. On display for six months, the 58 families who participated in the art installation also spent time with Coyne. She interviewed them about their experiences, delving into the myriad of reasons they decided to emigrate, and incorporated their thoughts into text panels, including the word “home” in their native language.
The participants reflect Minnesota's diverse population. As a state where the immigrant population has tripled since 1990—outpacing the rest of the nation—and 120 different languages are spoken in public schools, Speaking of Home is a celebration of diversity and a reminder to embrace our differences.
To find participants, which represent six continents, Coyne was aided by arts organizations, human service organizations, and the larger community. “The images were selected based on their ability to convey emotion, cultural identity, a sense of home—or lack thereof. One of my criteria for selecting collaborators was that they represent a breadth of experiences, classes, education levels, and cultures,” Coyne shares. “Everyone has a story to tell and all of the people who joined in this project were excited to be collaborators. They seemed compelled to be a part of the project. For me, it was a wonderful, engaging experience to be invited into people’s homes where they opened and shared their photographs and life stories.”
The photographs, which were printed on translucent fabric, appear to take on different forms throughout the day. Sometimes blending into each other, they represent how the human experience is often universal, creating a shared identity. Speaking of Home is a landmark event in Saint Paul, as special laws need to be enacted in order to use the skyway system for public art. Coyne's installation is the first of its kind in the city, and she hopes it will have a lasting impact.
“The project's materials and overall design endeavor to create a place for new Americans' voices and histories—often overlooked and marginalized in greater society—at the central node of power, namely, the center of the city's commerce and retail.”