"See me because I’m the future." "See me because the world is ours." "See me because I'm helpful to others."

These are just some of the messages from the participants of the Portrait Project through the nonprofit Art Start, which allows young people of color to work with photographers and create self-portraits that express their true identities.

“It’s the culmination of a full year of workshops, interviews, oral histories,” said Mariama Noguera-Devers, deputy director of Art Start. “Each youth in the project is paired with the photographer, and together, they decide on an image or a story or a concept that allows for the youth themselves to portray how they want to be seen and how they want to be represented in the world.”

A new exhibition entitled "See Me Because" showing the final portraits is now on display at the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea through June 26. The exhibition features both new portraits and ones from previous years.

The participants are selected from Art Start’s other programs, including the Emerging Artists program, which provides creative and professional development for young and up-and-coming artists. This includes coursework, field trips and connections with artists currently working in creative industries.

“There are so many things in the world that are telling folks, or telling young people, how they should be, how they should act,” Noguera-Devers said. “And to be able to give them autonomy and agency to decide themselves, especially after a pandemic…youth were able to come out of the world of COVID and stress, and be able to be seen.”

The project has also been expanded to Milwaukee, and is coming soon to Chicago.

You can visit the “See Me Because” exhibition Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., with special events on Saturdays. You can find out more information and make a reservation here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story  incorrectly identified the deputy director of Art Start as Mariama Nougera-Denvers. The deputy director's name is Mariama Nougera-Devers.