With the current climate of hatred and Islamophobia in the United States, Muslims from New York come together to say We Are Not Invisible! In the media, average Muslims are not visually represented and instead, we are dominated by images of anger and violence. We are viewed as if we are some distant mysterious population without a face.
This project is a face-to-face experience. It is a form of resistance against the anti-Muslim imagery painted by people with power. The public is misinformed by these people who have little understanding of how diverse and complex we are. We are a population that refuses to be ignored especially when we already are dynamic members of our communities. We come from different countries, and are different ethnicities and races. We are beautiful, vulnerable, and strong. Islam is a wonderful religion that possesses a widely diverse and unique community. Muslims look all types of ways beyond your imagination! This project is about taking up space and rejecting Islamophobic bigotry that has become a norm.
Muslim Lives Matter. We are here. We are not invisible.
—AAFSC Youth Fellows Leen Shumman and Isabella Arroyo
This month, AAFSC Youth Fellows Leen Shumman and Isabella Arroyo launched an incredible photography project, “We Are Not Invisible!” to resist the anti-Muslim imagery in the media and highlight the diversity of the Muslim community. Throughout the summer of 2016, the windows at AAFSC’s Brooklyn office will be filled with 28 giant portraits Leen and Isabella captured of local Muslims in the community, rotating from a total set of 56. These black and white, 3 feet by 5 feet portraits will gaze out on the heavily trafficked Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn, providing a powerful, face-to-face viewing experience for all pedestrians passing by.
On June 1, Leen and Isabella, both 17-years-old, spoke at a press conference outside AAFSC’s office and read their project statement to a supportive crowd of AAFSC youth, staff and community members, and they also presented speeches at AAFSC’s 2016 Summer Reception.
Leen and Isabella also participate in AAFSC’s Youth Program and learned filmmaking and photography skills in our “I Need To Be Heard!” youth media program. Leen attends the Brooklyn Collaborative School, and Isabella is a graduating senior at AAFSC’s partner high school, the Khalil Gibran Academy, and will soon matriculate to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. While Leen is a member of the Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian (AMEMSA) community, Isabella started learning about Muslims and Arabic culture when she started attending KGIA, the only NYC public high school focused on Arabic language and culture. AAFSC was a pioneering architect in founding KGIA and continues to act as the school’s lead community partner. At the press conference, Isabella shared how her outsider perspective informed the “We Are Not Invisible!” project. Before she started high school at KGIA and volunteering with AAFSC, Isabella explained, she held many of the media-driven stereotypes about Muslims that the project works to break down. The girls’ unique vision and supportive friendship guides “We Are Not Invisible!”
“We Are Not Invisible” was produced as part of the award-winning Inside Out Project, a global participatory art project that raises awareness about personal identity through large-scale portrait photography, focusing on the people and individual stories commonly overlooked in news-headlines. Over 1,200 group actions have taken place in over 127 countries.
Leen and Isabella’s project has inspired AAFSC’s new cross-programmatic initiative, Audacious Young Women of Action! (“AYWA!” which means “yes!” in Arabic). Through a girls-led directive counsel, girls clubs, seminars, counseling sessions, and a large-scale anti-Islamophobia campaign, AYWA! will focus on empowering young women in New York City’s Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian immigrant communities. Over the next year, AAFSC will provide the opportunities, spaces, and platforms to strengthen AMEMSA’s girls’ awareness, knowledge and skills to progress in NYC and expand their capacity to determine the course of their future. In addition to the “We Are Not Invisible!” photo exhibition, the girls of AYWA! will create a comic book and outreach materials, hold public events and make a short film about their campaign.
This project was supported in part by the Brooklyn Community Foundation and New York Women’s Foundation.
Watch Leen and Isabella speak at the press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGzdNWQl8vQ