Portland artist Titi de Baccarat says asylum seekers don’t always remember to thank the people who have helped them, so he’s doing it with this new piece. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Titi de Baccarat has lived in Maine since early 2015, after leaving Gabon with the fear that his political art had gotten him in hot water with authorities.

An asylum seeker, he always felt welcome and safe in Portland, and grateful he’s been able to express himself with his art. His latest work deals with immigration and directly addresses asylum seekers who lived at the Portland Expo this summer before finding homes across the region while their asylum claims are processed.

Portland artist Titi de Baccarat, originally from Gabon, has been making art in response to the asylum seekers arriving in Portland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Many wise people from Maine have opened their homes to welcome the asylum seekers, and that means a lot. That affects me in a positive way. It gives me hope and to be confident about our common future here in Maine,” he said, before pausing for a long moment.

“But at the same time I feel shame. Do you know why I feel a little bit of shame? Because asylum seekers, we often don’t take the opportunity to say thank you, to express our gratitude.”

One of de Baccarat’s new pieces is a collage of faces of newcomers, and homes and landmarks of Portland, including the Portland Observatory. It represents the journeys of newcomers and their resettlement in Maine. There’s a large, yellow sun, and de Baccarat gives the piece a pop-art poster quality by including, in festive colors, the words “WE say thank you to MAINE.”

“The people from Maine are the ones who welcomed us. In other states there is violence. In other states we are not welcome. In other states we never seem to be home,” he said.

De Baccarat has made a series of fabric sculptures to draw attention to the treatment of immigrant children at the southern border. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

De Baccarat isn’t showing the new work yet though he’s circulating it on social media. Lately he’s been working long hours in his studio preparing the work for exhibition. His primary focus is creating a fabric sculptural series of handbags and backpacks, made with pieces of clothing and shaped like children’s bodies, with arms and hands that hold items kids need for good hygiene, like toothbrushes and toothpaste. The backpack series is de Baccarat’s plea for the humane treatment of kids at the border and his denunciation of poor sanitary conditions in federal detention centers.

“We are obligated to protect them,” de Baccarat said of the immigrant kids.

The kids and their families who made it to Maine are the lucky ones, and that makes it all the more important to stand for the kids who are detained in Texas, he said. He asked for the public’s continued passion for immigrants everywhere.

“The 21st century is not a century when you should be selfish. You need to find enough space in your heart to give to others,” he said.

“We are all the same. Our lives are the same. We all seek peace, happiness and security for ourselves and our children, for our families and for our communities. We all want to succeed. We all want to live out our dreams.”

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