PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Nearly one year ago, Papay Solomon was about to graduate from Arizona State University.
“There’s just something about people’s faces, expressions, wrinkles that tell someone’s story,” Solomon said.
He paints and draws African refugees.
“I don’t take any requests. I like to, I just got to feel it,” Solomon said.
He feels their stories because they parallel his own. He lived in a refugee camp in Guinea for years, before moving to the United States with almost nothing.
But his God-given talent would turn out to be all he needed.
“My aim is to tell those stories one brush stroke at a time,” he said.
Before now, he was showing his paintings in homes, or at small galleries. And on a whim, he decided to apply for a grant from the Phoenix Art Museum.
There were nearly 200 applicants. Only four were chosen.
“A few weeks later I got an email stating that I was accepted, and I would be in the show. And that was amazing,” he said.
His own exhibit is now leaving people in awe who visit the museum.
His work shows the faces of his friends and the faces of family.
“This is a drawing or work on paper of my grandpa,” he said. “I never got to see him or meet him until I was 18 years old,” he said.
Solomon admits he's still caught between two cultures, and these paintings aren't truly finished.
But they represent his private battle, now on public display.
And in that, he's found pride.
“I’m basically trying to question what it means to be finished, what it means to be complete. What it means to be fully African, what it means to be fully American. So I just let it sit in the middle, where it belongs,” he said.
“Just like you?” asked reporter Briana Whitney.
“Just like me,” he said while smiling.