Trio of women create Faces of Garfield to spur community awareness

The three women Barni Qaasim, Chandra Narcia and Diana Pérez-Ramírez explore the Garfield neighborhood to meet new people for the Faces of Garfield Project. The project aims at connecting people to the community via picture and word. (Becky Brisley/DD)

Just bordering the heart of downtown Phoenix lies the neighborhood of Garfield, with a vibrant history and culture all its own. The Faces of Garfield Project aims to portray its people and unique community.

The project is a collaboration between three women—Barni Qaasim, Chandra Narcia and Diana Pérez-Ramírez—who all come from different backgrounds and share a passion for the community they live in.

Faces of Garfield is just one of the projects that is a part of Culture is Life, the trio of women’s main venture that creates media-related art for social justice and sustainability.

Faces of Garfield is a project similar to the blog Humans of New York. The three women leave their house within the neighborhood two times a week to take photos of anyone they run into and ask the people questions about themselves and their opinions on the community.

“You see a lot of people walking around that are so proud to be from Garfield,” Pérez-Ramírez said. “That’s what it is about—to show the people that are here how much people love this community. We use it as a tool for knowing each other.”

Garfield is the oldest multigenerational neighborhood within close proximity to downtown Phoenix, according to Pérez-Ramírez. Within its limits exists a rich diversity of people absent from many other nearby neighborhoods close to downtown, she added.

Despite the neighborhood’s closeness, she said that the neighborhood is often misunderstood.

“We want people to not be scared of it,” she said. “They say it’s dark and scary, but I’m one of those people you’re scared of. People don’t know what’s here, and sometimes what people don’t know about scares them.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to display the positive aspects of the historic community and create an even stronger sense of connectedness amongst its residents.

However, the project also aims to show the beauty of the area to those who are unaware of the community, Qaasim said.

“We love our neighbors, we love our community,” she said. “Being artists that come from different, low-income backgrounds, we see the beauty in our neighborhood and want to bridge the arts district we connect to and also the low-income community we connect to.”

Faces of Garfield not only aims to make the art community see how beautiful the neighborhood is but to also inspire other residents of Garfield to participate in artistic endeavors, Qaasim said.

Pérez-Ramírez said she believes there’s a barrier between Garfield and the Roosevelt Row Arts District, touching on the First Friday art walks as an example.

“You have to be a big artist to get a gallery or pay a lot of money to get a booth,” she said. “I know when the First Friday started, you didn’t necessarily have to have that. You just showed up with stuff to show it.”

For this reason, many people in the neighborhood that take part in arts do not necessarily want to go to First Friday to do so, Pérez-Ramírez said. Rather, they simply live in the neighborhood as artists.

“(Faces of Garfield) is art through photography and words,” Narcia said. “On a bigger level, it’s connecting the people that live in the community to each other. You might have seen a person riding by on a bike everyday but never knew their name or anything about them.”

The three women grew up in communities with their own cultures, but Garfield has become as beautiful to them as their original homes, Narcia said.

“These stories from everyone around us are the things that we try to tell,” she said. “There’s so much beauty around us even though people tend to focus on negative things, but it’s the beautiful things we want to bring out. We are using our own art and creativity to put something out there that’s positive.”

Through social media like their Facebook page, it became easier to connect, Narcia said. The Faces of Garfield project also has an Instagram account where people can upload their own photos to it by using the hashtag “#facesofgarfield.” This allows the members of the community to participate directly in the project, adding to the sense of community, she said.

“Through our eyes we see so many creative people,” Narcia said. “We’re creating a space for the community to talk to each other and participate in whatever way they feel they want to. We are really building on the sense of community that is already here.”

Correction: Jan. 22, 2014

A previous version of this story misspelled Chandra Narcia’s last name. It has been updated with the proper spelling.

Contact the reporter at rbrisley@asu.edu