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Alia Youssef: The Sisters Project

September 12 – October 14, 2018
Student Gallery, Ryerson Image Centre

I grew up being ashamed of my identity—my background and my religion—all because of the connotations that came with it. Since before I was born through Donald Trump’s horrifying travel ban and beyond, certain representations of what it means to be Muslim have circulated in media and literature. These images repeatedly depict a voiceless, demure, oppressed woman who is a victim of her patriarchal religion—a sad-looking veiled woman who needs to be “saved.”

I knew this wasn’t my reality, and it certainly wasn’t the reality of my mother, my sisters, or the women around me. But these images stamp a one-dimensional image on every Muslim woman, all 850 million of us. And they put Muslim women in danger, especially those who wear a veil, a marker of their religious identity. In Canada, these false representations have helped motivate a 42 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslim women over the past few years, and have contributed to building widespread Islamophobia.

This is why I created The Sisters Project, a photographic series of Canadian Muslim women. I want to counter the idea that we can be painted with one brush. Instead, I want to humanize these women and tell the diverse stories of their everyday lives. Whether she is a kinesiology student considering medical school, an ESL teacher who eases new immigrants into Canadian life, or the program manager at Ecotrust, working tirelessly to preserve the British Columbian rainforest, each one of these women is part of the fabric of contemporary Canadian society. This project subverts labels and false associations, counters incorrect narratives around voicelessness and lack of agency, and shows women who are in control of their lives.

Acknowledgements:

Alia Youssef would like to thank the Faculty of Communication and Design for their generous support to this exhibition; and Ryerson University, the Inspirit Foundation, and the Tessellate Institute for supporting this project as a whole.





Event(s):

Opening Party
Wednesday, September 12
6:00–8:00 PM

Exhibition Tours
Daily 2:30 PM

All events take place at the Ryerson Image Centre, unless otherwise noted

A portrait of a girl with tattoos and a head scarf
Fig. 1

Alia Youssef, Faye from the series The Sisters Project, 2017. Courtesy of the artist

Artist Bio

Alia Youssef

Alia Youssef is a Toronto-based artist whose work focuses on portraiture and storytelling through photography, video, and text. She is passionate about bringing light to underrepresented stories; especially those surrounding womanhood, familiar relationships, and gendered Islamophobia. Her long-term series, The Sisters Project, combats negative stereotypes of Muslim women by showcasing the diverse stories of inspirational women across Canada. This work has been published by The Globe and Mail, Buzzfeed, The Ethnic Aisle, Refinery29 and many more online and print media. Her passion for bringing a positive image to Muslim women led her to work on the 2017 Muslim Girl and Getty Images collaboration in New York City, a project that intended to flood the web with positive images of Muslim women.

Youssef has exhibited her work and screened her videos in Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa. She has participated in solo and group exhibitions, most notably at Presentation House Gallery (North Vancouver), Ryerson Artspace (Toronto), Nuit Blanche (Toronto), and the Parliament of Canada (Ottawa). She has also taught in the Digital Media Workshop at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC, and has given numerous public artist talks and lectures.

Youssef completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography with Distinction at Ryerson University.