LEWISTON — One photograph is of six Somali girls, wearing colorful long skirts and hijabs, laughing together as they stroll through Kennedy Park.
The picture is playful, artsy. The girls were positioned in a kind of circle by the photographer, yet they don’t look posed. They’re looking at each other, not the camera. The picture evokes a feeling of happiness.
Maana Daud, 10, a fourth-grader at Montello Elementary School, is the photographer who took the shot. Her picture is part of an exhibit that opened Friday and runs through June at L/A Arts Community Gallery at 221 Lisbon St. It’s called “Downtown Girls: A Reflection of Community.”
Maana is one of the Downtown Girls, a name the group of girls, ages 10 to 12, gave themselves “because we all live downtown,” Johorey Abdirahman, 11, said. Natives of Kenya, they are students at Montello Elementary School.
The photography exhibit came about after University of New England student Donna Flynn, who’s been interning at the Trinity Jubilee Center, worked with the girls teaching them photography. Armed with cameras provided by Flynn’s project, the girls learned to take good pictures, how photography can be a form of expression. They took pictures of themselves, their friends and family, their homes and neighborhood.
The exhibit provides a glimpse of their world. “I like this because everybody’s getting to know us, and we have an opportunity to take pictures,” Maana said.
Some of the exhibit’s photographs are black and white, some color.
There are close-up face shots, the girls smiling with friends and family. Others are stills of downtown scenes, signs and store windows.
One of Johorey’s photographs is a flower-gift shop store window. A white metal carriage is filled with plants and mugs with that familiar yellow happy face smile. It’s one of her favorite downtown scenes. “I like the happy faces all over it. I like the carriage,” Johorey said with a smile.
While their pictures tell some of their stories, the girls embellished. Several said life in Lewiston “is good.”
“Sometimes there’s drama, sometimes there’s not,” Johorey said. The Lewiston summers are “when the whole place is full, the park, because the houses are so hot.” Fans often don’t cool off the apartments, she said. “Lewiston is a hot place in the summer.”
She first experienced winter in the United States as a preschooler. The first time she saw snow, “I thought it was rice. My sister started eating it. It was weird.”
She lives with five sisters and one baby brother. Being part of a big family is fun, she said. “You never feel alone.”
Maana has four brothers and two sisters.
“I help my mom cook food. I help my mom with the chores,” she said. One of her favorite games they play at home is “Whoever can clean the house first,” she said. Her mother initiated that game. “Whoever cleans the house first gets a dollar and a prize.”
Isha Kasai, 12, likes to hang out with friends and family and cook with her mother. “I like making rice with her.” She and her friends often initiate “exercise day. We run around.”
One of her pictures is of her and two friends, one is a Somali girl, the other is not. “I like to make new friends,” she said. At school math is her favorite subject.
Isha recommends others consider a photography exhibit. Getting involved taught her to express herself through pictures and show her community. “I learned how to take a great picture. I learned to ask permission to take pictures.” Most people she asked said yes “because they know me.”’
While organizing the project Flynn said she learned that some Somali parents “don’t want to have their picture taken. They’re guarded.” That made organizing a photography exhibit with Somali girls a bit challenging. Flynn worked with parents and interpreters to explain what they were doing.
The younger Somali generation is less camera shy, often straining to get into pictures, even striking poses.
The Downtown Girls wear African clothes, “But they’re really no different than any other preadolescents,” Flynn said. “They have the same kind of energy.”