Some individuals and organizations who continue to inspire me:
The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
I aim to create timeless, iconic images of women that help expand the viewer’s visual vocabulary and understanding of Muslims beyond the one-dimensional depictions that are pervasive in art and media. I hope that when people view the series, they recognize the light that surrounds the figures as the same light that is burning within themselves because really it’s not about defining Muslim women, or anyone, but undefining them. It’s about undefining ourselves and connecting to that universal something that exists within all of us, that “something of the eternal.
...it’s an ability to say ‘I will be seen the way I choose to be seen.’ All of the models are going through our history books and deciding, out of all the great portraits of the past, which ones do they feel most comfortable, which ones resonate with them. And so I go through the studios with individuals who go through art history books and choose how they want to perform themselves…My love affair with painting is bittersweet. It was only later that I understood that a lot of destruction and domination had to occur in order for all of this grand reality to exist. So what happens next? What happens is the artist grows up and tries to fashion a world that’s imperfect. Tries to say yes to the parts that he loves, and to say yes to the parts that he wants to see in the world, such as black and brown bodies — like my own — in the same vocabulary as that tradition that I had learned so many years before. It’s an uncomfortable fit, but I don’t think that it’s something that I’m shying away from at all. What I wanted to do was to look at the powerlessness that I felt as — and continue to feel at times — as a black man in the American streets. I know what it feels like to walk through the streets, knowing what it is to be in this body, and how certain people respond to that body. This dissonance between the world that you know, and then what you mean as a symbol in public, that strange, uncanny feeling of having to adjust for ... this double consciousness.
I only want someone who feels right now the way I felt in the past to be able to identify with one of my pieces/my works, and use it like a tool to fight the prejudice. And also to understand that perhaps they planted within them a guilt that doesn’t belong to them. There are a bunch of people out there being hurt and the majority feel a historic weight produced by generations of abuse. I’m Not A Joke is for every person who others have tried to define with jokes because of things that they can’t change. Mockery is perhaps the most institutionalized form of violence that ever existed. ‘Artivism’ is using art as a non-violent method of action to change mentalities. Art appeals to sensibility rather than reason, since prejudice hides in certain reasoning. Art possesses a message that prejudice cannot silence. I would like to take [this campaign] to bus stops (I already did it in Buenos Aires), or to subway stations. I want to keep visiting universities; I want to keep teaching artivism around the world. I want, in a way, to show that art can create awareness and awareness is the seed of a new reality—but, above all, to create a symbol or badge for those who try to denigrate others through ridicule.
Everybody has a story. One day, I decided to start collecting them. The Strangers Project is an ongoing collection of 15,000+ anonymous stories from the lives of the strangers we share our world with. Every page is handwritten right on the spot.
People often ask me why I don’t photograph real Indians, but the people that I photograph are real Indians. These are my people.