Faces in the skyway: New public art project Speaking of Home showcases regions diversity

Downtowners can occasionally find Nancy Ann Coyne, the artist that installed photographs in a skyway over Nicollet Mall, strolling through the IDS Center, watching people take in her public art project.

“There’s a really beautiful dance that people do,” Coyne said. “Some people stop and read each one. Some people stop and come back. Some people touch it.”

A few people assume the photos are ads — “and yet they are more real than anything else in this space,” she said.

Coyne has spent the past three-and-a-half years creating the project called “Speaking of Home,” and she raised contributions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The piece is designed to explore the meaning of “home,” and it draws from the photo albums of people who are new to Minnesota.  

On a recent Friday, one man stopped and thanked Coyne for the exhibit.

“You see a dream, and you go for it,” he said.

Another man who stopped to talk was Minneapolis Fire Inspector Thierry Chevallier, one of the 23 people pictured in the skyway. His featured photo was taken for his military ID at age 18, back when he still lived in Paris. Chevallier moved to the U.S. 30-some years ago, and he doesn’t visit Paris anymore.

“Home is what you make of it,” he said.

For those who hurry through the skyway each day without time to stop, here are a few of the stories behind the photos.

What: Documentary photographer Nancy Ann Coyne compiled family photos of immigrants and Minnesota newcomers into an art exhibition.

Where: The skyway between Macy’s and the IDS Center

When: Aug. 4–Oct. 31

Why: The photos are meant to highlight the diversity we have in the Twin Cities, and explain what “home” means to newcomers here. A subtext of the exhibition is the message that no one can thrive without an affordable home as a foundation.


This is the last photograph Shati (left) took with his friend, Jabbar Ma’Touq, before

Ma’Touq joined the ruling Ba’ath Party.

After spending four years in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan, Shati came to Minnesota. He refused to participate in the Iraq-Iran War and had to flee illegally to Iran.

1953 Born in Nasiriyeh City, Iraq
1970 Adnan photographed with his friend during spring break at Nasiriyeh Park, on the Euphrates River
1990 Resettled in Minnesota after surviving in several refugee camps
2008 Now a teacher living in Minneapolis

NASRA MOHAMED NOOR (pictured with her brother’s hand on her head)

Noor fled Somalia with her family when she was 10 years old, a time when she didn’t even know war was underway.

“For me, home needs to be a place of peace,” she says. “Seward Tower East [an affordable housing residence] is now my third home. It has helped me to become an independent and powerful woman in my own right.”

1980 Born in Afgoye, Somalia
2001 Nasra photographed with her family at a Nairobi home during Eid, a Muslim holiday
2002 Resettled in Minnesota; reunited with her husband
2008 Now a community organizer living at CommonBond Communities’ Seward Tower East in Minneapolis


Once a sailor in the French Navy, Chevallier misses the sea and hopes to one day retire by the ocean.

1957 Born in Paris, France
1978 Thierry photographed in Paris for his military ID.
1987 Emigrated to Minnesota seeking a new change in life
2008 Now a city of Minneapolis fire inspector, living in Centerville

MAI CHUE VANG (pictured holding the baby)

In 1984, she fled Laos, fearing retribution from the government due to Hmong support of the U.S. throughout the Vietnam War. Mai had this photograph taken to memorialize her family’s survival when they arrived at a refugee camp. Since 1993, she has lived at an affordable housing residence.

“Today, home is a place where I can live without persecution,” she says.

1964 Born in Victic, Laos
1985 Mai photographed with her family at Chiang Kham Refugee Camp in Thailand
1988 Resettled in Minnesota with her family after surviving four years at the refugee camp
2008 Now a bookbinder residing at CommonBond Communities’ Torre de San Miguel residence in St. Paul

VLAD HURDUC (pictured with his grandfather)

Hurduc’s father defected from Communist Romania in 1983, and Hurduc and his mother joined him here three years later. He says this photograph triggers vivid memories of growing up during the Ceausescu regime.

1975 Born in Alba Iulia, Romania (Transylvania)
1976 Photographed with his grandfather at the Black Sea
1986 Emigrated to Minnesota to be reunited with his father
2008 Now an entrepreneur living in Minneapolis


This photograph was taken at the end of the war between Iran and Iraq, when Leila could feel comfortable outside and no longer worry where the bombs would hit.

“Home is where you have unalienable rights which cannot be taken away,” she says.

1952 Born in Tehran, Iran
1988 Photographed in Tehran City Park
1998 Emigrated to Minnesota seeking a new opportunity for growth
2008 Now an art teacher residing in Minneapolis

ANNA-LENA SKOLD (pictured with her grandfather)

“Since we spend a part of every year in Sweden, home is now, in a sense, both places,” she says. “One wish, here: to bicycle, and not always have to drive to the store.”

1959 Born in Borås, Sweden
1968 Photographed during a visit with her grandfather in Fritsla, Sweden
1995 Emigrated to Minnesota on account of her husband’s profession
2008 Now a chef at the American Swedish Institute living in Bloomington


Lira has lived in the U.S. for 13 years.

“Although I am not a citizen — yet — I feel like one,” he says. “I shovel snow,  pay taxes, and am an engaged member of the local arts community. Still, I am often asked where I come from, like I am still a visitor, an outsider. Why is that? … After all, in American society, everyone is either an immigrant or of immigrant roots — except the Native Americans, who were here many centuries before us all.”

1964  Born in Mexico City, Mexico
1995 Gustavo photographed at his art studio in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
1995 Emigrated to Minnesota to be reunited with his American wife
2008 Now a muralist living in Minneapolis

Source: Speaking of Home, by Nancy Ann Coyne