When I first envisioned curating a global exhibition on Muslim women, I knew I wanted to create an exhibition that would be a rich, multimedia platform where any person from any faith background could come and personally experience the incredible diversity, strength and talents of leading Muslim women from around the world.
Too often, the image that first pops into a person’s mind when picturing a Muslim woman is far too narrow.
Those who aren’t Muslim often turn to belittling stereotypes: veiled, victim, vixen, terrorist, illiterate, Arab.
And those who are Muslim? Well, it seems many have notions of what a Muslim woman “should” be and harshly judge real, complicated women based on this self-created myth – a myth that is oftentimes based on appearance alone.
These easy and dismissive attitudes about Muslim women are exactly what this exhibition challenges. Over 200 Muslim women from around the world speak for themselves through their art, their writing, and through their own words in interviews with me.
Each and every one of these women is included because she is noteworthy -- a cutting-edge artist or writer, a revolutionary who is upending her community's and the world's limited notions of what a Muslim woman is capable of doing, a pioneer fighting for women's and girls' rights.
Not surprisingly, not one of these women fits the Western or Muslim stereotype of a Muslim woman. In fact, every single woman in this exhibition rises above these belittling distortions and, in many cases, is using her personal relationship to her faith in a positive way to actually shift the conversation about Islam. In the process, these courageous trailblazers are transforming the world in fresh and exhilarating ways.
As I said in my Curator’s Welcome, the way I have defined the term “muslima” for this exhibition is all-inclusive. We welcomed everyone – women and men of all faiths and backgrounds – to participate in, contribute to, and view the exhibition.
I’m happy to say that Muslima was successful in each of these areas.
Diverse Participation: Thanks for adding your voice!
- In one groundbreaking platform, a rich spectrum of diverse women has come together like never before. They have differences in language, in customs, in passions, in race. Some cover, some wear miniskirts. Some believe in God, some are tied to Islam only through traditions. Some are immigrants and others are new converts. Yet all are proud muslimas.
- In our Global Call For Submissions, we received many powerful submissions from artists who are not Muslim but whose work speaks to the commonalities among communities. Megan Shutzer and Katie Tygielski, for example, take viewers on an exciting romp to the island of Zanzibar where a Muslim women’s soccer team, New Generation Queens, is redefining long-held beliefs about women, Islam and sports.
- Participation in Muslima wasn’t limited to artwork. Many participated in the exhibition by joining in one or more of our four Tweet Chats. These conversations were restricted to 60 minutes and 140 characters and yet the sky was the limit as we explored the various ways in which Muslim women are breaking stereotypes, the progress our communities have made in the twelve years after 9/11 and the power of art to affect social change. The tweet chats were powerful and emotional and deeply honest. The hour flew by too fast and many left aching to continue the conversation – a true testament to the need and urgency of such dialogue.
Impactful Contributions: We asked you to get involved and you did!
- Islamophobia plagues many of our communities and remains one of the only acceptable forms of prejudice, directly impacting the lives of millions. To help combat this atmosphere of intolerance and fear, IMOW asked you to pledge to be part of the solution to end Islamophobia by joining the Speak Up! Listen Up! Campaign. It’s a testament to the commitment and integrity of our viewers that we reached and surpassed our goal of 10,000 signatures. From Belgium to Singapore to Kenya, supporters from around the globe pledged to help bring about a more just, equitable and inclusive world. I couldn’t be more proud.
Viewership: We couldn’t have done it without you!
IMOW’s mission is to inspire and move and even somewhat change you through what you experience. Here are just a few endorsements of Muslima, from Muslim and non-Muslim leaders alike:
“Muslima shows stories the media doesn’t cover—of creative, courageous, real Muslim women.”
--Jennifer Siebel Newsom, founder, Represent Project
“I LOVE the Muslima exhibition because it shows strong, diverse Muslim women who defy stereotypes.”
–Zainab Salbi, Founder, Women for Women International
“Why visit an exhibition on Muslim women? To see inspiring stories about the next generation of leaders and boundary-breakers.”
–Tiffany Dufu, Catalyst for Women and Girls
“Because many view Muslim women as oppressed, silenced, and subordinate, I think it is vital that we show how powerful and vocal we are. Art is a beautiful way to do this because it often transcends language, differences, and sometimes prejudice.”
–Nuri Nusrat, Muslima Ambassador
Muslima not only caught your attention, but the media’s attention as well. A glance through the Media Room will show you the many outlets around the world that covered the news of this groundbreaking exhibition: Al Jazeera, O: The Oprah Magazine, Ms. Magazine, The Economist, The Sunday Guardian, Gulf News, Philippine Star, The National and many others. As curator, I regularly blogged about the exhibition for the Daily Beast and Huffington Post – the latter of which even created a video of one of my posts (“Ten American Muslim Women You Should Know”).
Why is this media attention noteworthy? In partnership with Miss Representation, IMOW created an infographic called, “How does the media portray Muslim women?” The infographic shows how sound bites the media uses to portray Muslim women have been a major contributor in creating and perpetuating pervasive stereotypes about Muslim women – so much so that the helpless Muslim woman seems to no longer be just a stereotype. "Muslim woman" has become synonymous with "helpless victim.”
Since media is a culprit, it’s vital that the media stop spinning a distorted image of Muslim women in order to sell copy and instead show the true reality of Muslim women. And there is no better way of showing that reality than by covering Muslim women who are speaking for themselves, as they do in Muslima.
As pleased as I am with the many successes of this exhibition, I am sad to see that the time has come for it to end. In virtual terms, of course, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices will always exist online. You can view it at any time, continue to add comments to it under any piece that moves you, and download the very important Muslima Discussion Toolkit that I created for use in your classrooms, houses of worship, community centers, and even book groups to help you facilitate conversation, better understanding, and actions between diverse communities. The toolkit is a companion piece to the exhibition, which was designed with the same mission in mind: to better societies by bringing about deeper awareness and appreciation of differences in order to create a more inclusive and peaceful world.
In the end, the achievement of that mission is what I’m most proud of with this exhibition. Yes, we have a long road ahead to undo the dangerous impact of Islamophobia, but this exhibition is an incredible contribution along that path. We need many more projects like this one. We need many more artists and writers and community leaders standing up and speaking out, changing what we think of when we think about Muslim women.
I will end by saying that as curator my fingerprints are all over this incredible project. To it, I brought my ideal of inclusiveness. I believe that when we exclude, we weaken the community. God states in the Qur’an that He created diversity in order for us to get to know one another. As counterintuitive as that may seem, differences are what help us to understand one another and that understanding is what leads to greater unity. I can’t imagine a better way to begin that journey of understanding than through this extraordinary exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices.