“Painting is basically everything. I like to use colors that best compliment what I’m trying to say.”

For 24-year-old Papay Solomon...

“I knew I liked painting people that looked like me.”…his art is a portal to a reality he said few in Arizona know.

“I think the majority of people think that Africans are from just a place with huts,” said Solomon.

He paints life-like portraits of African refugees he meets in Phoenix, but with a narrative that goes far beyond a third-world.

“When you walk in front of my paintings. I try to illustrate just elegance,” said Solomon.

He hopes to change the perception of refugees...because he is one.

“I’m just trying to capture that middle…whatever that means. Between two cultures,” said Solmon.

He lived in a refugee camp in Guinea for nine years.

“We went days sometimes without really having enough to eat,” he said.

But it was there, he found his love for art, sketching in his only notebook.

“You’re wasting your good notebook pages…but I kept doing it anyways,” said Solomon.

His family moved to the United States when he was in high school. He never thought he'd even be able to go to college, but a scholarship made that possible. His refugee paintings are now being sold for thousands of dollars. And the Herberger Institute of Design and Art named him its "top undergraduate."

But to Solomon, the best reward was finding himself.

“At one point I used to be shy to say I was from Africa,” said Solomon. “Now I’m not afraid to be…uh…to just be.”

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