REFUGEE: Photography Exhibit Documenting Refugee Life Opens at The Newseum

The refugee crisis on Earth has hit an unprecedented high at around 65.3 million displaced people. Common Dreams reports that “one in every 113 people worldwide is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced, or a refugee, the UN said,” and that about half of this population is made up of children. Starting November 18, visitors to The Newseum can explore a photographic exhibit documenting this situation around the globe called “REFUGEE.”

The exhibit will be on the second level of The Newseum, which has seven levels in total. If you aren’t among the over six million guests who have visited The Newseum since it opened in 2008, here’s some general information on what to expect from a visit:

The Newseum

The Newseum is centrally located on Pennsylvania Ave. and holds many galleries, artifacts, and interactive exhibits throughout its seven floors, as well as outstanding views of D.C. The Newseum site explains that it “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.” Popular exhibits at the museum focused on these themes include the 9/11 Gallery, the Berlin Wall Gallery, and the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery. The Newseum also explores the progress and evolution of methods of electronic communication and offers extensive online learning opportunities for students and teachers that are in accord with national SOLs. NewseumED, an online learning platform, is one such offering. The Newseum and Newseum Institute are committed to encouraging meaningful learning, dialogue, and interactive programs within a “neutral forum,” and, naturally, they don’t’ shy away from challenging topics such as national security, privacy, religious freedom, and journalism. They also host various television programs in their two cutting-edge studios and are a popular space for hosting many types of special events. When you visit, be sure to explore the Newseum Store, which spans two stories, and enjoy the sumptuous fare at the Food Section and/or The Source by Wolfgang Puck.


The REFUGEE Show opened this month and shares photo-documentation of the lives of refugees around the world, including in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Myanmar, Serbia, Slovenia, and the United States. The moving images show us how millions of displaced people around the world persevere as they face enormous life disruptions, life-threatening danger, persecution, unimaginable loss, and challenges of nearly every kind imaginable. The esteemed photographers who gathered this visual record of their lives traveled through five continents to create the unique collection of photos. They are: Lynsey Addario, Omar Victor Diop, Graciela Iturbide, Martin Schoeller, and Tom Stoddart.

During a visit to the show, you can check out a documentary film as well that follows the photographers on their travels to capture refugee life and reveals further nuances of the individuals and stories involved. The Annenberg Space for Photography commissioned the documentary and it was produced by Tiger Nest Films. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett is the narrator. You’ll also encounter a poignant installation of a wall of life jackets in this REFUGEE exhibit. Another fascinating feature of this multi-media experience is the opportunity to experience, through virtual reality, life in a camp for the internationally displaced in Soacha, Columbia.

Free REFUGEE Professional Development for Teachers

Middle and high school teachers, librarians, and media resource specialists who would like to use this exhibit as a jumping-off point to learn and teach about refugee life and productive classroom discourse are invited to a free professional development workshop on January 28, 2017, from 9:00 to 2:30. The workshop focuses on a case-study approach that “provides a safe entry point for students to safely, respectfully, and productively debate provocative and polarizing issues in the news and on their minds.” Professional participants will experience and write their own case study related to the refugee exhibit and refugee and immigration issues, with a focus on inquiry-based teaching methods. Participants will also experience the NewseumED “The Third Rail: Teaching Controversial Content” workshop (the third rail refers to issues so controversial that they are often considered dangerously charged and politically off-limits). A guided tour of the Annenberg Space for Photography’s REFUGEE exhibit, lunch, extra exploration time in the museum, a certificate of completion, a ready-to-go activity for students, and additional resources will be included. Annenberg Learner provided a grant to fund this experience at The Newseum. If you are a middle or high school teacher, librarian, or media resource specialist, you can learn more about this workshop and also apply before January 9, 2017, here.

You can check out this YouTube video from The Annenberg Space for Photography to get a better feel for the exhibit, which asks, “what does it mean to flee your home, seeking safety?” One displaced woman compares losing so much of one’s identity to “losing your soul.” Experiencing these images gives us a glimpse into international refugees’ journeys, struggles, and hopes, including those of families and individuals who are newly settled in the United States. Some of the information presented is difficult to process–The Annenberg Space for Photography site asks that you “please note that REFUGEE contains some graphic images and content that may not be suitable for all visitors.”

The Newseum in D.C. is open every day from 9:00 to 5:00 at 555 Pennsylvania Ave, NW. They are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Julia Travers 


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