Col­lect­ing Per­sonal Ar­chives at the Gar­diner Mu­seum;

Muslim women ar­chive their lives at the Gar­diner Mu­seum

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - By SAMRA HABIB

Col­leCt­ing Per­sonal ar­Chives at the Gar­diner Mu­seum’s Com­mu­nity Arts Space (111 Queens Park), Au­gust 22-31. 416-5868080. gar­diner­mu­seum.on.ca.

In 2007, Muslim vis­ual artist Zahra Ag­jee, then a hi­jab-wear­ing Fine Arts stu­dent at OCAD, wanted to pho­to­graph her­self in dif­fer­ent modes of dress­ing through­out the week.

For her project Self Study Se­ries, the artist set out to doc­u­ment the thought process that went into her choos­ing to wear a hi­jab ev­ery day. She pho­tographed her­self in three vary­ing states that told a whole story: wear­ing the hi­jab, in a head wrap and show­ing her hair, the last of which her class­mates had never seen.

She wanted to ask her­self “does wear­ing the hi­jab make me the per­son I am?” by look­ing as an out­sider would and ex­am­in­ing why a piece of cloth is sym­bol­i­cally so heavy.

Al­though she took 21 photos, she se­lected only two for the fi­nal show, both of which showed her wear­ing the hi­jab.

“Even though I had the full right to ex­press my­self, I didn’t know if peo­ple would judge me,” Ag­jee ex­plains. “I was wor­ried that if I wanted to speak about the hi­jab, some­one would take it as anti-Muslim, whereas it’s just about my per­sonal strug­gle with the hi­jab.”

She later re­gret­ted the de­ci­sion, even though the pieces were class­mates well-re­ceived whose by judge­ment­the nonMus­lim she had feared.

To help other young Muslim women ex­plore their nu­anced ex­pe­ri­ences through vis­ual art in a safe space, Ag­jee now co­or­di­nates and fa­cil­i­tates the Truth & Dare Project, a cre­ative in­cu­ba­tor that runs work­shops, self-care re­treats and art ex­hibits for young Muslim women.

In part­ner­ship with Gallery 44’s OUT­REACH pro­gram and Toronto artist soJin Chun, the group is tak­ing over the Gar­diner Mu­seum’s Com­mu­nity Arts Space with the mul­ti­me­dia ex­hi­bi­tion Col­lect­ing Per­sonal Ar­chives. It fea­tures work by 12 artists that par­tic­i­pated in a two-mon­ththe who The 519.of live have show doc­u­mentsin the been springis as city. di­verse de­fine­dor work­shop His­tor­i­cally,record­sas as Mus­limsa pro­vid­ingseries col­lec­tionar­chives at in­for­ma­tionor werea group in­ter­estedof about peo­ple.in usinga place,Chuna more­and in­sti­tu­tionAg­jeep­er­sonal mean­ing mod­elto in­cludeof ar­chives, im­ages ex­pandin­gof pop cul­ture, its per­sonal photos and more. It’s also about high­light­ing com­mon­al­i­ties be­tween Muslim artists and their au­di­ences. “Peo­ple re­al­ize that a lot of is­sues are the same even if be­ing Muslim gov­erns our lives,” Ag­jee says. Is­lam­o­pho­bia and the way it im­pacts and gov­erns young women’s lives and work was one of the big­gest con­ver­sa­tion top­ics dur­ing the work­shops.

“For Muslim women, whether we’re in our own com­mu­ni­ties or out­side, we’ve al­ways been spo­ken for,” says Ag­jee. “Peo­ple as­sume they know what we want. When we are af­forded spa­ces, we can tell our own sto­ries.”

As such, many of the works deal with per­cep­tion.

Pieces in the show in­clude Zahra Komeylian’s white ceramic pieces that spell out a word in Farsi that means angst and is specif­i­cally used for women.

Mean­while, Aniqa Tabas­sum Rah­man is show­ing pho­to­graphs of Muslim women in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments to coun­ter­act the por­tray­als typ­i­cally seen in main­stream media of op­pres­sion and lack of agency.

Ifrah Akram worked in a dark­room with pho­tograms us­ing honey and hon­ey­combs to cre­ate cam­era-less pho­to­graphs. Honey sym­bol­izes her re­la­tion­ship with Is­lam and the way her faith fills her “with sweet­ness.”

“It helps me look at the world with a deeper un­der­stand­ing,” Akram tells NOW. “Is­lam has taught me that things aren’t black and white.”

Work­ing within a group pri­mar­ily made up of women be­tween the ages 18 and 26 helped her vis­ually ex­press her­self.

“We of­ten talked about our cul­tures and how so­ci­ety judges Muslim women. It was re­ally com­fort­ing to con­nect with oth­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ences and feel that so­ci­ety can’t put us down,” she says.

“It gave me the en­cour­age­ment to trust my power as a woman. You feel like other peo­ple share your strug­gles and that shared ex­pe­ri­ence made me see con­fi­dence in my­self.” art@now­toronto.com | @the­re­al­sam­sam

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