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Stories Behind the BrushStrokes

Barnstable artist Frank Chike Anigbo

Anigbo adds the finishing touches to one of his portraits. Photo by Ashley Owen

The relationships between Anigbo and his subjects develop organically, and he spends anywhere from an hour to several weeks at their sides. In 2007, for example, he spent two weeks living in the area with a woman named Sherri, whose home consisted of a blanket, pillow, and traffic cone. Anigbo sat by her side as others came to visit with her, or to buy a trinket she was peddling. In this world, the most striking thing Anigbo found was how normal life ultimately seemed. “One of the most important and constant lessons I’ve learned is how universal life is,” he says. “Spend enough time in a different part of society, and just about anything can become completely normal.”

Through multiple trips to the area, Anigbo has learned that conversations produce better insight than interviews. “The quality of what you end up learning [in interviews] is only as good as the questions you asked, or as good as the answers they choose to give,” he says. “But if you spend a week or two weeks or three weeks with someone on a constant or nearly constant basis, after a while you forget why you really came there and you just talk and listen.” He documents these conversations and experiences in journal entries and voice recordings, detailing the life stories of his subjects. They aren’t statistics, but people replete with childhoods, struggles, and regrets.

Lately, Anigbo has found little reason to visit Skid Row again. It’s a gentrified place where the homeless have been mostly displaced to make way for, as he puts it, “fashionable condos, art galleries, and hipsters with very small dogs.” Instead, he continues to seek out parts of the world that others like to forget. “I’ve spent much of my adult life feeling very strongly that so many people are discarded,” he says. In long nights at the studio he captures their spirits, and he goes to sleep knowing that his work means something.

Ashley Owen is a freelance writer and former intern for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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