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New exhibit at Ulrich Museum of Art tells stories from refugee families

Wissa Malikzai, Mythili Menon, Ksenya
Kylie Cameron
Wissa Malikzai, Mythili Menon, Ksenya Gurshtein, and Kendra Cremin (left to right) worked together to tell Malikzai's family's story in the Ulrich's newest exhibition: "Where We Belong: Refugee Stories from Wichita."

The exhibition opens Thursday, Aug. 24, and runs until early December.

Two years ago, Wissa Malikzai's family left Afghanistan when the Taliban took over Kabul as U.S. troops were withdrawing from the country.

Now, his family – as well as other refugee families – are featured in a new exhibit at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University.

The new exhibit, titled “Where We Belong: Refugee Stories from Wichita,” features families from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.

“We realized we have someone that they are asking about us,” Wissa said. “If there is someone coming into your house, it’s like our culture back in Afghanistan, we have the same situation. Like a lot of people there are coming to your house, and they’re asking about you.”

If Malikzai’s story sounds familiar, it is. He talked to KMUW for a Range feature a year ago.

Back then, he was helping other refugees get settled in Wichita, but wanted to get back into a career in banking – which he’s doing now.

His other family members are also finding jobs or continuing their education. And on the weekends, Malikzai plays cricket with other Afghans, which he talks about with enthusiasm.

“We are lucky that we have a team here, we have a ground,” Malikzai said. “A lot of Americans, they’re asking about the game. Like how it looks like and they’re asking about like, ‘How we can play this?’”

Kendra Cremin shows Wissa Malikzai a video he's featured in for the Ulrich's new exhibit.
Kylie Cameron
Kendra Cremin shows Wissa Malikzai a video he's featured in for the Ulrich's new exhibit.

Those are the types of stories the exhibition tells with photography and video by Kendra Cremin.

“I kind of knew going in … that it is a community story,” Cremin said. “Yes, it is these families' stories that we’re documenting and it's an honor, but this is part of Wichita’s history. This is our community; these are our people.”

The exhibit is a partnership between the museum and the Center for Educational Technologies to Assist Refugee Learners, or CETARL, also at Wichita State.

“We really want the refugee community to have more visibility in Wichita,” Mythili Menon with CETARL said. “We do have a sizable refugee community.”

CETARL has also developed a bilingual, digital game-based learning platform, called Gorilla Bay – for refugee and asylee children in the community – that’s also on display.

The exhibition became possible after Menon and Ulrich curator Ksenya Gurshtein met and decided to collaborate.

Gurshtein said while each family’s story is different, they all hoped for some of the same things.

“Everybody wants safety, everybody wants stability and security, and everybody talked about education for their children,” she said. “Everybody sees that as the path to the future.”

That’s reflected in Malikzai’s family story – and they’re grateful for how accepting the community has been.

“They have a very welcoming people here,” Malikzai said. “And like… a lot of cultures, mix it up. And for us, it was a culture shock.

“Like, also, they can learn about our culture. Also, if we share the cultures, it’s the beauty of … living in the world.”

Along with the exhibition, several other speaking events, a movie screening and a volunteer information session for the International Rescue Committee, will accompany it.

The exhibit opens Thursday, Aug. 24, and runs until early December.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.