by Courtney Christenson
After months of planning, networking, organizing, asking for favors, networking some more, prepping, applying for funding, nagging, photographing and framing…My photo exhibit finally happened!
For the last 7 months I have been working on a nationwide photography project called “Redefining WE.” I collaborated with [primarily] female photographers around the United States to create a collection of images that dismantles stereotypes, facilitate dialogue, and create a sense of mutuality between Muslim and Christian women. Each photographer created a set of images with one photo of a Muslim woman and one of a Christian woman, engaged in a similar activity (ie. studying, speaking, making art, being a mother, playing sports etc). The photos were matted side-by-side in a shared frame to communicate the idea that Muslim women and Christian women have much in common, despite our differences. Discussion questions, posted throughout the exhibit, were carefully constructed to facilitate meaningful dialogue, build relationships and create opportunities for mutual transformation.
The idea sounded simple, but it quickly grew larger than I anticipated. My original goal was 10 photographers and 10 sets of photos… and I ended up with 23 sets of photos, 17 photographers, 50 photo subjects, 7 states (and 1 photo from Morocco!), 2 grants, and hundreds of hours of work.
The project was supported and sponsored by Peace Catalyst International, with lots of help from the wonderful women behind 2 Faiths, 1 Friendship in Southern California. It was primarily funded by a grant from the Abe Keller Peace Education Fund, with additional funding provided by The Awesome Foundation.
Here are just a few sets of photos from the exhibit:
Left photo by Joey Bertocchini
Right photo by Marie Monforte
Top left photo by Marwa Al-Alwani
Bottom left photo by Courtney Christenson
Top right photo by Amos Kolbo
Bottom right photo courtesy of Aneelah Afzali (Sand Boarding)
Photos by Christine Otte
Photos by Danielle Zacharias
We had our first gallery viewing and dialogue event in Redmond, WA on September 2, 2016, and it was a success beyond my wildest expectations. I cried happy tears the entire night because the idea came to life so beautifully.
There were 75 women who attended (on a rainy Friday night on a holiday weekend!), and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Wonderfully, the vision I had in my head was realized. Women came in, were put into small groups, and moved through the exhibit discussing the posted questions. They were all nervous at first, being forced into groups with strangers and asked to discuss questions about gender and religion, but afterwards many of them told me that the small groups were the best part.
The feedback from everyone was incredible. The most encouraging part of my exit survey was that the phrase “we are all women” was repeated over and over again in the comments. The exhibit worked – it actually did redefine people’s “we” to include women very different from themselves. “We” are all women.
Appropriately, the exhibit ended with a wall of interfaith selfies that people sent me from all over the country. They make me smile every time I look at them.
Overwhelmingly, the most common piece of feedback I received was that the exhibit needs to keep going. The ladies who attended found it inspiring, encouraging and transformative, and they want others to experience it too.
And it will continue! I created the exhibit to travel, so the possibilities are endless. Redefining “We” is set to display at Bellevue City Hall (in the Seattle area) in October, and potentially a couple more venues in the Puget Sound/Seattle area before it hopefully travels to Southern California to be displayed. There is also an organization in Atlanta hoping to host it. So this is not the end, but only the beginning!
Thank you to everyone who helped, supported, networked, photographed, modeled, financed or championed this project! It was such a pleasure to work with so many incredible people.