This body of work began over the summer of 2016 and is a direct response to the politicized images of American Muslims depicted as a plagued foreign diaspora. It is about the universality of youth, as in reality, young Muslims are vivacious, earnest, informed youths eager to participate in their American democracy. This project is a translation through representation of what a dynamic American community should look like.
Shot in the studio and painted with only natural light, the images are meant to invoke the timelessness of the first American portraits taken by Matthew Brady right here in New York City. Against a neutral grey background, the vibrancy of each subject stands out in sharp relief, symbolizing clarity in the midst of all the political noise. This is our young complex America, simultaneously integrated, independent, and highly networked. These images are not an attempt to bypass genuine concerns, but rather harness them into the normalcy of daily life and start to shift the national dialogue to one of unity.
Hanan, 24, NYU dental student: “I have a pretty positive personality- my nickname is Happy Panda. I try not to think too much, because sometimes I have a tendency to do just that. I always tell everybody, there’s not just two parties [so] why don’t you break the system a little bit? So I’m going to vote for any other random person on the list and not just go for a Republican or Democrat, cause honestly they are both horrible people - one is fake and the other one is pretty ‘out there’ and blunt and his mind set is pretty bad… and hers is conniving. Sometimes I’m surprised at people, at who they’re voting for but I don’t push my views on anyone else.”
Iman, 23, bio-medical engineer for a Healthcare tech company: “I’m originally from Nigeria but moved to the United States 5 years ago for my formal education. I initially got accepted for Biochemistry at Temple University and then I applied to transfer to Drexel because I got a scholarship. After my third year, I had done some "soul searching" and realized pursuing medicine will not provide me with the options, lifestyle or fulfillment that I would be seeking. I decided to pursue Bio-medical Engineering instead because I believed it would be more challenging and it was! My dad being a doctor himself knew how stressful that lifestyle was and was okay with my decision to switch as long as I knew what I wanted to do with engineering. He thought hopefully I would pursue a Ph.D.! And I’m not surprised! I grew up with expectations of excellence in academia, where you couldn’t come home with a ‘B’. When all my friends bought iPods, I wanted to get one too, [but] my father insisted I read 3 books first, underling all the words I didn't understand, then write it out and go a dictionary and write out the meanings. So, at an early age I was taught to value of education and work ethic. When it came to making independent decisions of whether we wanted to play or work, work always took priority.”
Mosammet, 17, student at Brooklyn Tech High School: "We are a nation of immigrants. I do not accept someone who calls my fellow brothers and sisters of color 'murderers and thieves'. I do not accept someone who utilizes fear mongering to turn half the country against the rest. I will not stand my mother or my sisters being forced to remove their hijab and I will not stand my father and brother being called 'terrorists'. I LOVE LIFE, but as an American citizen, I have never been so disappointed in America."
Shahid & Hanzalah, 18 & 20, college students (Information Security & Android Development): “So, we met initially back in Brooklyn Tech High School at the MIST Club (Muslim Interscholastic Tournament- a state/ national level tournament where Muslim high school students compete in 40 different competitions ranging from debate and improv, to spoken word). We were talking about software engineering and complaining about teachers, term projects, etc. At first I was thinking, ‘Ahhh, a mini me! I’ll take him under my wing!’, but then the more we hung out, the more it became clear that I was usually the one who needed more help between the two of us. Nowadays, Shahid is the kind of guy I’ll message at 2 am with some strange insomnia induced epiphany and he’ll take two seconds to tell me the massively obvious hole in my logic and tell me to go to sleep. I’m amazed we’ve known each other for so many years because in many ways it still feels like we only recently met- there’s a timelessness to it and honestly, it feels more like family."
Syeda, 21, math & physics major at Hunter College: "I’d love to teach. It’s been my dream for the past couple of years to open a school actually, for [young] kids. I feel there is this huge stigma towards math and physics or just math and science. Especially in math! Where a lot of kids feel like they can’t do it and the steer away from it because they don’t think they are capable of doing it. For starters, to give kids earlier exposure to things like fundamental concepts. I took chemistry when I was in high school, in 10th grade, and that’s when I learned what an atom was. That is something I could have easily learned when I was a kid. When I was in bio I learned what a cell was, when I was in physics I learned what vectors were and it wasn’t till I went to college that I really learnt what all that meant. I think the older we get the more we question things, the more we need rationales to explain things. But as kids, we’re willing to just take things and run with it and let our imaginations play."
Jiniya, 20, student of advertising and psychology at The City College of New York: “I want to be a creative director in an ad agency. That’s what I want to do in the future. I want to change the message through advertising. The status quo. Change the way people are represented, the way women are represented… change the negative portrayal, the objectification of women, the false narrative. To just, shake it up. I guess I want Muslims to be portrayed like more normal… like looking at the media, I can’t understand why we are always portrayed as either the good or the bad, the moderate or the extremists. Why can’t I be normal? Why do I have to be labeled as Muslim?… Why is my headscarf the first thing that you recognize about me? Why can’t we just be people?… I identify mostly as a feminist and yes, I am also very religious. I guess people see that as clashing… because a lot of people think that because it’s religion you should be strict- ‘can’t do this, you can’t do that’… But the thing is, in religion no one is controlling you. You have your own choice. And I think that is what feminism stands for. You’re making your own choices, and you’re standing up for what’s right. That is what feminism is!”