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Anna G. Larson, Published March 25 2013

VIDEO: Faces Project uses art to instill confidence in young women


What: CHARISM’s Faces Project Art Show

When: 7 tonight

Where: ecce art + yoga, 216 Broadway

Info: Admission is free.

FARGO - Irada Abdulahi, 14, got to know a very important person the last six weeks – herself.

“Instead of others judging you, get to know yourself,” Abdulahi says.

She moved to Fargo three months ago from Nairobi, Kenya, and through CHARISM Neighborhood Support Centers’ Faces Project, the Discovery Middle School student has been using art to explore her inner and outer beauty.

The New American girls involved in the Faces Project have been creating abstract and realistic self-portraits this year with the guidance of local artist Jessica Wachter and program facilitator Judy Gunkelman.

The female-only program encourages the young girls to focus on their goals and talents and realize their self-worth. It’s one component of the local nonprofit’s outreach efforts for at-risk middle and high school students.

At the start of the program, Abdulahi didn’t have an interest in art, but now she likes drawing.

“It cheers you up. Jessica inspires me,” she says.

Hajuar Hassan, 12, also learned to enjoy art through the program. She says she can express herself “crazy-like” now. Hassan’s family moved to Fargo five years ago from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. She’s smiling in her final self-portrait.

Abdulahi colored her eyes sky blue for her oil pastel portrait.

“I love blue eyes, but mine are brown,” she says. “That is truly me, that is who I am.”

Portraits by Abdulahi, Hassan and the other girls will be on display starting today downtown at ecce art + yoga.

Seventh-grader Rita Nimpaye learned about beauty and individuality in the Faces Program. She’s lived in Fargo four years and moved from Tanzania.

“I learned in here to be yourself. Don’t try to act like someone else you’re not,” Nimpaye says. “Everyone is beautiful in their own ways.”

Wachter says it’s been exciting to see the girls blossom into self-assured individuals.

“They realize that they don’t have to fit a mold,” she says.

The self-portrait projects have helped the girls express themselves without words, and it’s been therapeutic for some who still have language as a barrier, Wachter says.

“Women have so much to offer the world, it’s been great to see them grow,” she says.

Gunkelman explains that the girls are encouraged to embrace their differences, both physical and cultural. For example, if a girl is insecure about her nose, Gunkelman and Wachter will talk about the unique shape of it and how it makes her who she is.

The Faces Project celebrates beauty and uniqueness, Gunkelman says.

“It’s hard enough for most junior high kids, but these kids really have lots of different aspects of their life that are different from the rest of us,” she says.

Tonight, the girls will celebrate the culmination of their art with VIP treatment. First, they’ll go to the Plains Art Museum to view Wachter’s exhibit, “Beyond Convention: New Work by Jessica Wachter,” and then they’ll head to the HoDo for dinner. Finally, they’ll walk to ecce art + yoga to present their self-portraits to family and friends. Each girl will talk about her portrait and what they’ve learned through the Faces Program.

Abdulahi is a little nervous to talk about her art tonight, but says her cousin in Africa has been helping her write the speech.

“Now that I’ve gotten to know myself, I’m not too worried,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525.