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Art Exhibit Highlights Works of Recent Immigrant Children

September 20, 1996
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A young boy, wearing blue pants, a sweater and a pair of Nike sneakers, sits beneath a thick, leafy tree.

But this is not an ordinary tree.

From its foliage bursts the Statue of Liberty, a red convertible, a computer, a school house, five children carrying the American flag, a basketball net, a bottle of Coca-Cola, a dog, a peace sign and a Jewish star.

"My picture represents my goals and dreams and what America has given me," reads the display card below the drawing. The artist, 14-year-old Boris Rapoport, came to the United States from Kazakhstan in August, 1994, and now lives in Rochester, N.Y.

"Here there’s freedom, you can get a good education, you can practice Judaism, you can make friends and there’s peace. America is the tree and I am the boy sitting under it. My drawing shows all you can do here."

Rapoport’s drawing is part of an art exhibit, "America, My New Home — A Child’s View," being presented at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York. The exhibit, which is scheduled to run through December, is co-sponsored by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

The 24 works exhibited were created for the 1995 and 1996 HIAS Poster Contest for New Immigrant Youth, designed to encourage recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union to express their vision of their new country. Children between the ages of 4 and 15 from across the United States were eligible for the contest.

These posters are "the first of their many gifts they’ll bring to America, their new home," Martin Wenick, executive vice president of HIAS said at the exhibit’s opening Tuesday. "Their talent, originality and artistry are exceptional."

Some of the local artists were on hand at the opening to speak of their inspiration.

Seven-year-old Leah Koss, a runner-up in the 1996 contest, painted her family floating in the air just above the words "I love America because everybody is happy." Sentences inside the rainbow at the top of the picture explain why everyone and everything, including the buildings, the sun and the trees, are smiling.

"People smile here," Koss said. "They don’t really smile in Georgia because they need to stand in long lines to get bread." Koss and her family left the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 1993 and now live in the Bronx, N.Y.

"When I came to America I saw big buildings and I thought if I could go on the biggest building I can reach the sun and moon," she said. "In America, there were playgrounds and sprinklers and pools. That’s why I decided to come to America."

With his blond hair, blue eyes, black Nike sneakers and blue and black flannel shirt, 10-year-old Gleb Lobachov looks like any American kid. Lobachov, the 1996 grand prize winner, moved to West New York, N.J., nine months ago from St. Petersburg, Russia.

"I’m so extremely happy here," he said through an interpreter, "I’m so free here."

Inside a rectangular rainbow box, two jumbo aircraft fly above the river towards Manhattan. The Empire State building looms above the other buildings, including one that says "The Gap." On the other side of the river, the Statue of Liberty floats through a rainbow and clouds create the word "America."

The entire painting is bordered by tiny cartoon characters, reminiscent of "The Simpsons," each participating in some activity, such as watching television, doing karate, opening presents and riding on a roller coaster.

"I wanted to show New York composed of different people and what they do and the difference between St. Petersburg and New York," he said.

Marina Raynes, 11, does not remember the anti-Semitism in Russia, but she knows that was one of the reasons her family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., in August 1991.

"When you go to synagogue here, no one looks upon you with disgrace," she said. In America, "They don’t live by color."

Marina drew the Manhattan skyline, creating the buildings with multi-colored stripes, dots, boxes and candles. Flying in the cloudy sky above is a colorful dove with an olive branch in its mouth.

"The skyscrapers are represented by the menorah, which represents my favorite holiday," she said. "The dove is many different colors to represent the many different nations put in one."

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