Graduate & Alumni Spotlight

(Re)branding: A voice to communicate

(Re)branding: A voice to communicate

Natasha Boddie/October 2017

Growing up in Lebanon during the civil war, School of Art alumna Nelly Sarkissian spent much of her time watching Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun with a vivid image of James Graham Ballard’s iconic drained swimming pool fixed in her memory. “It was one of the Hollywood movies that was closest to depicting my own reality as a child. I also was fascinated by the idea of escapism through E.T. and Close Encounter with the Third Kind. I always wanted to be a part of that world,” says Sarkissian.

Nelly Sarkissian was recruited from Lebanon to work in the U.S. as a young artist who showed lots of promise and drive. Working at an Arabic speaking TV station in Washington D.C., Sarkissian did not feel integrated into the American culture and society until she began pursuing her MFA at George Mason University. She was quick to learn the ropes and in no time built close friendships and a wider professional network in Mason’s diverse cultural environment.

As a student, she collaborated with professors learning the creative process one assignment at a time, obtaining her MFA in Digital Art and Technologies in 2010. In the seven years that have ensued, Sarkissian has taken on many new and creative artistic challenges.

In her current role as a supervisor and hands-on art director at Tribune Broadcasting, a media company with the largest number of independent TV stations in the United States, Sarkissian’s profession has led her to a rewarding career in re-branding with local broadcasting stations, such as CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC the CW and My TV. Always with an eye to producing digital art that is meaningful and community oriented, Sarkissian has won three local Emmy awards in her hometown for graphic work done for Los Angeles’ KTLA 5.

Her most recent re-branding job with New York’s PIX11 News is the highlight of all her re-branding projects—a dream come true for a young artist that immigrated from Lebanon just ten years ago.

At the start of the project, Nelly sat down with her team to begin fleshing out the goals of their design, their internal spec sheet. “Every client is a unique experience, as every creative process takes on an identity of its own,” says Sarkissian. “Often times, clients don’t know what they are looking for. So our team aims to create something that is fresh to the identity of the local station.” To do this, the team researched the character of the city where the station broadcasts. Lots of images of the NYC and its relationship with the people and the surrounding spaces were gathered to inspire and inform the design. Also, the design team hired a drone operator to capture footage of the city from a new perspective—not as aerial as a helicopter, and not as close to the ground as an on-foot photographer.

The Tribune design team’s main goal was to create a graphics package that came as close as possible to the character of the city, to reflect the energy and its diversity. The challenge was to compose balanced visuals that intermixed 3-D renderings of the logo and other brand components with the acquired drone footage. Once the initial animation sequence was approved, Sarkissian, along with 3-D and 2-D animators, a compositor, an editor and a sound mixer on board, created an “open” (a six-second animated clip) that captured the very character of New York City.

As a unique added bonus at the end of the project, Sarkissian produced a high quality printed and bound style book with all the iterations of titles and transitions that the client can refer to for guidance in creating new designs—something that is rarely done in her industry.

Nelly loves what she does but still wants to feel creatively stimulated outside of her paid work. She regularly creates personal artwork and participates in group projects. Most recently, she spearheaded a very successful all-woman group show in Downtown Los Angeles with the art collective SheLoves, which she helped establish with a few other artists. Never one to shy away from exploring new media formats, she showed her first augmented reality video performance, MAD LO(VR), in collaboration with another Mason alumnus Peter Lee. Nelly’s future personal projects include a collaborative storytelling art piece, and she is going to find new inspiration with international travel. 


To learn more about Nelly Sarkissian and her work click here. Follow her on Instagram @achkhen.

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Organizers Behind Richmond’s Homegrown Current Art Fair

Organizers Behind Richmond’s Homegrown Current Art Fair Discuss Its Future

by Amanda Dalla Villa Adams/September 5, 2017

It finally happened. Seven Richmond galleries and a handful of art experts came together to launch Richmond’s first art fair, Current, in October 2016.

There was a large turnout with a steady stream of people from cross sections of the community, explains Adam Dorland, general manager of Quirk Gallery, a participant in the inaugural fair. “[It] was pretty incredible,” he says. “We got to meet a lot of new people we wouldn’t otherwise cross paths with.”

Now how to keep generating success in year two?

One solution is to bring in the new. This seems an obvious strategy for Current with a namesake that it says on its website is “a nod to the nearby James River, the idea of the new, and the notion of an electric spark.”

For 2017, Current has doubled the galleries, combining the original seven — 1708 Gallery, ADA Gallery, Candela Books and Gallery, Glave Kocen Gallery, Quirk Gallery, Page Bond Gallery, and Reynolds Gallery — with Walton Gallery, Iridian Gallery, Second Street Gallery, Shockoe Artspace, Sediment Arts and the Visual Arts Center of Richmond/Quirk Residency. While last year featured only one nonprofit, this year includes several that will be featured on the exterior booth walls or in project spaces. This is helpful for newly created galleries such as Shockoe Artspace, founded by a Virginia Commonwealth University instructor, Ryan Lauterio.

Leadership for Current has also changed, as self-professed “hybrid artist curator” Sarah Irvin took over in February.

“I moved back to Richmond in 2009 after being away, and I saw this real growth,” she says. “The fair is the next step in bolstering the art scene here. I wanted to be part of this growing scene. There was enthusiasm last year and people are really looking for continued growth. We want to keep doing Current each year but it needs to benefit the artistic community here in Richmond.”

The fair also moved from Scott’s Addition to the Main Street Station and its newly renovated train shed. Gordon Stettinius, director of Candela, says “We’re kind of like a mirage — we’ll go up in the basement of the train station before it’s made into retail spaces.” The art fair will be the second public event held in the space since its reopening.

In terms of art sales, Irvin says the fair doesn’t keep track of those numbers. She did note that last year it had 3,000 visitors over the weekend and an additional 300 to 400 guests at the preview party. Page Bond, owner of Page Bond Gallery, says the first fair was an unexpected success for her gallery. “We had new smart collectors from Richmond and out of town,” she says. “People were happy to take home works right on the spot, and we don’t usually see that sort of spontaneity. Overall, we had terrific sales.”

Caroline Wright, former fair coordinator and gallery liaison, is thrilled to see the new location and continued growth. “[The fair organizers] have been smart about creating a stepping-stone growth. This year brings a more high-profile location and expanded participants with galleries from Charlottesville and Petersburg. I think in the long run, Current is perfectly placed to grow significantly, especially if they can keep bringing in people from out of town.”

Add in programming, food and a bar so that people have a reason to stay rather than just a quick perusal. Talks featuring three to four artists will be offered each day at 1 p.m. Panel talks about art writing, curating and collecting contemporary art are scheduled for Friday and Saturday night.

Dorland is excited to see how the second year differs, especially with the new additions. “[Irvin] has worked really hard to create an environment for people to come and hang out,” he says. “There will be a bar area and a lounge area with exclusive food and cocktails. Studio Two Three will have their to-go mobile. There will be a lot going on.”

Some things will stay the same, such as no admission charge and a collaborative environment. “We have had collaborative meetings with all the galleries about once a month since the last fair,” Dorland says. “Everyone was quick to figure out how to maintain momentum. It takes year-round planning to do this event.”

Irvin agrees. “It’s great because everybody comes under one roof for the weekend to be neighbors,” she says. “It really forms a more cohesive art scene as people are coming together to create something unique.”

The second annual Current art fair will be held from Sept. 28 through Oct. 1 at Main Street Station. For information visit


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Alumnus Kelly Shepherd travels to Philippines

Alumnus Kelly Shepherd travels to Philippines

Natasha Boddie/May 2017

Alumnus Kelly Shepherd knew early on, he enjoyed taking photos. As a child, a camera was always in hand. Eventually he made his way to School of Art to pursue photography. It was here, nearing graduation, did he realize “hey, maybe I should pursue this as a career.” Everything fell into place when friends asked him to photograph weddings, events and family portraits.  

In 2012, Kelly received his BFA in Photography. He describes his experience at Mason’s School of Art as a great one. “I had many friends and lovely professors. Looking back, I get nostalgic for the great times I had. The work was intense at times but it forced me to be a better photographer and I do not regret a second of it,” says Kelly.

Post graduation Kelly recounts his most rewarding experience – a mission trip to the Philippines. His love for photography and travel led his sister-in-law to approach him about the mission trip. She felt he would be an asset to the team. Kelly didn’t immediately accept the invitation. It took him a few years to embark on the journey. “It is a big commitment as well as a financial one, I was lucky enough to have raised all the funds per donations by family and friends,” replies Kelly.

According to Uplift Internationale’s website, their mission, aims to give a life changing gift to children with facial deformities by mending faces… one child at a time. Every year Uplift conducts Operation Taghoy – an annual mission trip to the Philippines to provide reparative surgical care to poor, rural children born with facial deformities.

To be considered for the mission trip one must posses a combined set of skills and experiences. Being this was Shepherd’s first trip overseas. He remained open minded. No expectations other than to be transformed in a positive way. Travelling to Manila with an unpretentious mindset. Kelly reflected on all in which he was thankful for in life.

The next day would begin his awe-inspiring journey as he took a five-hour van ride south to a port where he took a three-hour ferry ride to the island of Marinduque. Here he spent seven days to document over 35 surgeries with 200 people in/out of the hospital. Roadblocks posed a challenge to the team. This team, which included photographers, nurses, doctors and outreach personnel; overcame the challenges. Once surgeries were underway the team worked proficiently under time restraints. Kelly had the opportunity to enter the Operating Room (OR) to document these surgeries firsthand.  

After a week long of surgeries, post op processing and cleaning. The team concludes their trip with a visit to the governor’s private island. A white sandy beach surrounded a mind-blowing view. The team was rewarded with small boat tours around the island, snorkeling and drinks.

As Shepherd said goodbye, it was tough. An indescribable feeling of bittersweet memories as a weight was lifted. The hundreds of new best friends Kelly made along the way would remain on his mind as he travelled home. It was all over before he knew it. He had a feeling of guilt as he returned home so quickly. IF only he could have helped them all. For this they had to return to finish the work.  

No online publication, brochure or website presence can compare to all Kelly has achieved during his trip to the Philippines. Kelly notes, “the mission trip has been the most rewarding achievement so far … knowing that we were changing people’s lives for the better was the far more rewarding aspect for me; the opportunity to photograph all of it was a secondary reward.”

Moving forward, each year, Shepherd hopes to achieve/accomplish more than the last. He feels his best days still wait as he moves forward, “I am no where near done achieving, I believe my best times are ahead of me and that I’ll accomplish many things in my life.” Despite life complications in 2017, Kelly plans to return with Uplift in the years to come to the Philippines.

To view photos from Kelly’s mission trip click here.

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MFA Candidate studies abroad

Master of Fine Arts candidate Melvin Parada recounts his semester abroad at Hochshule für Gestaltung Offenbach am Main Art & Design in Frankfurt, Germany.


“This past month I finished my semester abroad at Hochshule für Gestaltung (Hfg) Offenbach am Main Art & Design located in Frankfurt, Germany. As part of my graduate studies in graphic design, I enrolled in two courses during their winter semester, conceptual design with a special topic on climate change and advanced typography with an emphasis on hand lettering through poster design. I was fortunate to study under Klaus Hesse (conceptual design) and Sascha Lobe (advance typography), both highly respected for their contributions to the graphic arts, professionally and academically. My tenure at Offenbach although brief (full year of study is recommended) allowed for a unique experience to learn within the German construct as well as collaborate with other students and professors. What marks Hfg Offenbach as an extraordinary experience for design students is its direct ties with the famed Bauhaus art school (1919-1933). Hfg Offenbach (1970-present) is two academies removed from Bauhaus, first having been founded by two professors of Hfg Ulm (1953-1968) a previously acclaimed art & design school which was founded by the first rector at Bauhaus, Max Bill. Many of the traditions and philosophies in the training and teaching of artists by these two previous institutions are at the core of Hfg Offenbach’s experience.

I prepared for my semester in Germany by taking 3 months of German language last summer. Although I only obtained a basic skill level, I was fortunate that almost all professors and students speak fluent english and many courses are often conducted in English. Hfg Offenbach, along with most other German institutions accept a good number of international students as part of the Erasmus program for international learning. This allowed for an easy transition with the ability to quickly assimilated and participate without fear of a language barrier. This is not to say that German isn’t the primary language, as most lecture courses are in German and native students primarily speak German in most instances. It did present an interesting perspective on the importance of being able to communicate ideas in a global setting, which the academy does a great job preparing its students through its exposure to international students who come to the academy to study and their dual use of English as a neutral language.

Alongside my studies at Hfg Offenbach, I’ve also taking advantage of Europe’s open borders visiting various other countries like Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Italy, as well as other German cities. Throughout these visits I’ve sought out museums, libraries, art shows, and historic landmarks in the fields of design. These first hand visits of the places and people who have impacted the history and landscape of art & design has provided me with an enriched sense of understanding that classrooms often are unable to fully capture. This comprehensive learning experience, I am certain, will have great impact on my future endeavors as a designer and educator.

I return to DC this summer, beginning my thesis research and taking my final course requirements in the fall. I expect to graduate in the Spring 2018 with my MFA in graphic design.”


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Alumnus Nicholas Collier is Gettysburg’s new artist-in-residence

January 30, 2017

Herald-Mail Media

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Gettysburg National Military Park’s artist-in-residence for January and February is Nicholas Collier, a U.S. Military veteran who will pursue photography, sculpture and filmmaking during his residency.

Collier received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2012 from George Mason University in Virginia and his Master of Fine Arts in 2016 from Florida State University.

He works as an interdisciplinary artist, employing photography, social practice and sculpture to explore the intersection of ideas revolving around place, history and contemporary culture. His work has been shown in galleries in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Florida.

He lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he splits his time between his studio practice, the development of his start-up, Aloft Aerial Imaging, and working as a residential remodeler.

“Art has helped me move on from things you do in war that aren’t permissible in society,” said Collier, who reflects on war, combat and military themes.

His residency will allow him to take inspiration from the historic battlefield of Gettysburg and how it reflects on the battlefields and soldier life today.

The artist is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, with a combat action ribbon for his time in Afghanistan. His unit was in Afghanistan running missions like the one in the movie “Lone Survivor” starring Mark Wahlberg. His unit was the first in the Korengal Valley prior to the Army unit portrayed in the movie “Restrepo.”

Collier arrived Jan. 15, and will do a “meet-the-artist” event and display from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, call 717-338-4469.


Stars and Stripes had the opportunity to follow Nick around as he photographed – check out the video here.

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DC Restaurant Commissions alumnus Nathan Loda

By Jessica Sidman on January 5, 2017

If George Washington was 25 years old today, he’d have a man bun, wear Wayfarer sunglasses, and drink whiskey from Founding Farmers.

At least that’s the fantasy envisioned by the team at the new Farmers & Distillers. The owners commissioned an oil painting of America’s Founding Father as a millennial from local artist Nathan Loda to hang in the Washington-themed dining room of their Chinatown restaurant, bar, and distillery.

“If George Washington was here today, if he was hipster, cool, and this was his place, and he was presiding over the dining room, what would he look like?” co-owner Dan Simons explains of the painting’s premise.

Simons says he tasked his employees with finding photos of “handsome, cool, hipster dudes with a good vibe.” They then narrowed down the pool to photos that reminded them of Washington. Simons gave those images to Loda to work off of. (Loda previously painted the horse body on the host stand at

Founding Farmers in Tysons Corner, which makes the hostesses look like centaurs if they stand just right.)

Loda modeled the young Washington portrait after the iconic one featured on the dollar bill. You can see the resemblance in the heavy eyelids and half-smile—but this Washington also wears a vest and leather monogrammed bracelet.

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Alumna Laila Jadallah to speak at Fotoweek DC 2016

In celebration of Fotoweek DC, join us for an evening of discussion with O. Louis Mazzatenta, Amalia Pizzardi, Christie Neptune and Laila Abdul-Hadi Jadalah. Our panelists will discuss how their own work with photography has influenced understanding of other cultures, both internationally and locally. Following the discussion there will be an audience q+a along with a reception.

Doors: 6:30pm
Panel: 7pm

About our Panelists

O. Louis Mazzatenta served as picture editor, director of layout and design, writer and photographer during his 42 year career with National Geographic Society. After retiring in 1994, he continued his photographic and editorial work. He took charge of National Geographic’s first foreign language venture in Japanese, the first of many foreign language editions. After the successful Japanese launch, Lou “retired” again and within months was off to China to photograph new excavations at the famous terra-cotta army in Xi’an. Since then, Lou photographed many stories for National Geographic and handled studio and other photographic assignments. His work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, books and other international publications. Exhibitions of his photographs have appeared in China, Japan, Spain, Italy, New York and Washington.

Amalia Pizzardi was born in Italy, where she studied Art and Communication at the University of Bologna under Umberto Eco and received her PhD in Social Sciences. She organized the seventh and eighth editions of the Lyric and Cultural Festival “Valle d’Itria” presenting “Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard” by Marivaux and “Turandot” by F. Busoni, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Tourism and commissioned by the Paolo Grassi Foundation. While living in Mexico, she became convinced that Art can be a vehicle for social change and began to advance this cause by organizing artistic events within the framework of cultural interchanges with other countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Finland, France, Guatemala, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay and the United States. She has participated for years as a juror in competitions and cultural events organized by CNN, the Red Cross Art Auction, Juannio, Latin American Masters’ Auction and private galleries. She is the founder and director of the art gallery “The Gallery Art & Design,” dedicated principally to Latin American art on the vanguard, which has had a presence in Mexico, Italy and the United States, participating in international art fairs such as ArtMiami and MiArt in Milan. She is also the founder and President of “Colors of Life,” a non-profit organization that has sponsored artistic and cultural events, notably an annual international photo contest, to create opportunities for world-wide talented artists while raising awareness and funds on issues that affect children and youth by implementing cross cultural understanding. Colors of Life is dedicated to collaborating with other organizations that strive to make children and youth a social priority.
Christie Neptune (b. 1986) is a Washington, DC based artist, raised in Brooklyn, NY. She received her B.A. in 2009 from Fordham University. In 2015 she participated in More Art’s Engaging Artists Residency. Neptune is currently a Hamiltonian Fellow. Recent shows include a solo exhibition at the Hamiltonian Gallery, Washington, DC (2016); and Five Myles Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2015). She has been included in group exhibitions at the Queens Museum of Art, Queens NY (2016); A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2016); Yeelen Gallery, Miami Fl (2015); The Hamiltonian Gallery, Washington, DC (2015); UnionDocs, Brooklyn, NY (2015); the Momentum Technology Film Fest at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (2014); and 440 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2011). Her work has been reviewed in Hysterical Feminisms, Psychology Today, JUXTAPOZ, AFROPUNK, The Washington Post and VICE.

Laila Abdul-Hadi Jadallah was born in Geneva, Switzerland and raised in the Washington, D.C area. She has lived, worked, and exhibited her photographs in Paris, Washington, and the Middle-East. Laila completed a B.A in Integrative Studies with a concentration in Arts & Culture & Photography from George Mason University in 2007. She worked as a photography and gallery assistant in Washington, before moving to Paris in 2009 to study at SPEOS Photographic Institute. Earning a Certificate in Studio Photography, she focused on portrait and fashion photography working with designers including, Sakina M’Sa, Isadora Ducasse and Dognin, before moving back to Washington in 2010. Since her return she has provided consultation services on photography, curating, art direction and exhibition development for galleries, arts-based organizations, creative groups, and artists. Laila has curated, co-curated and produced several photography exhibitions in Washington for various artists, galleries and citywide events, including: Nuit Blanche: Art All Night DC and FotoWeekDC; Adah Rose Gallery, The Middle East Institute’s Arts & Culture Program, The Smith Center for Healing and The Arts, Studio Gallery and The US Fund for UNICEF among others. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, and on Al Hurrah TV, and is in the permanent collection of the Office of Arts in Embassies, U.S. Department of State. She is a Friend of Mark Landis, a member of ArtTable, serves on the Board of Directors of the Washington Studio School and is the Founder & Creative Director of Oui Curate.


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Alumna Rahshia Sawyer exhibits in Berlin

Berlin Foto Biennale

Some Things I Can’t Explain 428, will be on view at the 2016 Berlin Foto Biennale. 446 contemporary artists from 41 countries October 6th-30th 2016. Throughout October 2016 Berlin welcomes once again the largest German festival for photography, the 7th European Month of Photography. As a Associate Partner of the EMOP Berlin the first edition of the Berlin Foto Biennale – and 4th edition of the Biennial for Fine Art and Documentary Photography – will take place at elegant Palazzo Italia, situated in the historic heart of Berlin.

Curator and artistic director Julio Hirsch-Hardy says:
“Berlin was chosen due to the fact that it has become a cultural hub of the visual arts, as important of the other three cultural hubs of the world, New York, Paris and London.”

Emotions and Commotions Across Cultures will present 1230 photos by 446 contemporary artists from 41 countries of all continents – among them 65% women, who have received the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers. The works represent a wide spectrum of styles ranging from documentary and wild life, to portrait and experimental photography. Recognizing a wide array of artistic expression across diverse cultures, the Biennial presents a contemporary overview of the different schools of thought emerging from the United States to China, from Australia to Turkey and from Senegal to Mexico.

This Biennale also contains selected works by Steve McCurry. His solo exhibition ‘Retrospective’ forms part of the Biennial as special invitee. An essay by the young emerging talent Yusuke Suzuki about the refugee crisis on Lesbos and the chaos in Syria’s Aleppo is also included in this comprehensive photographic display.

The Biennial captures international trends in photography and presents us a kaleidoscope of sentiments and perceptions. In this way a photographic chronicle of our time emerges with all its emotions and commotions, visually expressed by hundreds of photographers across many cultures.

Part of the revenue from artwork sales will be donated to Save the Children. The Biennial is accompanied by a catalogue published by Kehrer Verlag.


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To learn more about alumna Rahshia Sawyer visit her website.

Alumnus Nick Collier selected as Inaugural Military Veteran Artist in Residence

CONGRATULATIONS alumnus Nick Collier for being selected to participate in such an amazing residency. Nick was selected as the National Parks Arts Foundation Inaugural Military Veteran Artist in Residence this coming November. As part of the National Parks Centennial celebration this year they have chosen to support Veterans with this amazing opportunity and Nick will kick the event off!!

He will be living in a remote part of Big Bend National Park on the Texas/Mexico border for the entire month of November along with singer/songwriter Russell James Pyle.

More to come!

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“Ice Harvest” debuts in online magazine iGNANT

iGNANT is an award-winning online magazine featuring the finest in art, design, photography, fashion and architecture. Alumna Thitipuk “Looksorn” Teeratrakul work is featured in issue 01 of the online magazine.

Ice Harvest By Looksorn

“I grew up surrounded by migrant workers since my family runs an ice factory in Thailand. All of them are legal workers with work permit from nearby countries, but majority of them are from Myanmar (or formerly Burma). December 2010, I moved to the United States. I have an opportunity to observe Thailand as an outsider with an insider’s perspective. Looking back to when my parents started the ice business, I noticed that Thailand has difficulty to control massive number of migrant workers: there were a lot and still large amount of migrant workers who don’t have the work permit. That leads to why police would go after every migrant and extort money from them and they threaten to send them back to their home countries. My parents have been unwillingly paying the local police to keep them away from the workers at the ice factory even though they have the valid work permits. Ice Harvest observes the discrimination of working class and bribe culture in Thailand.”