There is something about the fabric of the of the hoodie and the hijab that scares people. Why are Black men in hoodies and women in hijabs associated with violence, fear, and inherently perceived as a potential threat? After the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the hoodie became a symbol of past and current injustices, and state-sanctioned violence directed towards Black and brown people. Similarly, the hijab, long reviled as a garment of Muslim women’s oppression, has also been a flashpoint for conversations on gender, religion and race in America.
In the autumn of 2015, I found myself constantly frustrated by the endless violence targeting Black and brown communities, especially at the hands of law enforcement officers. As Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland’s deaths made headlines in America, international news was rife with stories from a deadly political crisis in Burundi; Syria’s refugee crisis was worsening; and the body of 3-year old Syrian, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on Turkey’s shores. I was haunted, my social media feed saturated with images that normalized the deaths of Black and Muslim people.
I was in a course on global agitation, art, and activism taught by Anida Yoeu Ali, Visiting Assistant Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. As part of my final project, I explored the intersections between anti-Blackness and Islamophobia by taking photo portraits of my friends, who were either Muslim, Black or both. I projected the large scale images on the side of Trinity College Chapel at night. It was the birth of my Hijabs and Hoodies exhibit, which explores the intersection between racial and religious profiling of Black men, as well as Muslim men and women in America.
Hijabs and Hoodies was originally created to counter the anti-Black, and anti-Muslim imagery in the mainstream media; not just in America, but around the world. With Hijabs and Hoodies, my participants are not just volunteers, but collaborators in creating the portraits. Through an open studio collaborative process, whereby volunteers spend time in the exhibit and have their portrait taken, I am able to hold active conversations that capture the essence of the volunteer’s reality, history, stories, opinions and hopes for the future.
Towards the beginning of 2016, I was graciously offered a position as artist-in-residence at Studio Revolt; a collaborative media lab producing motion imagery and performance projects. Hijabs and Hoodies was incubated with Studio Revolt, and it was through this collaboration that I received an invitation to participate in CROSSLINES: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality, organized by the amazing curators at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Hijabs and Hoodies was activated at CROSSLINES as an open studio process where I took new portraits and exhibited some of my preexisting work.
Hijabs and Hoodies is a project rooted in collaborative community arts where participants become collaborators, and the large-scale portraits encourage you to investigate, reclaim and subvert the same gaze that deems these communities a “threat.” I also want these images to evoke an array of emotions depending on who is viewing them. Ultimately, my goal is to humanize people that are impacted by a system that continues to disenfranchise and disembody Black and brown bodies, and hopefully create meaningful work that exists at the complex intersections of between race, religion, and gender.
Someone once told me that love is the revolution. Hijabs and Hoodies is my missive of love to the world.
Tracy Keza is a Mastercard Foundation Scholar pursuing a major in Environmental Science and a Minor in Studio Art at Trinity College in the Scholars Program at African Leadership Academy (ALA). “Hijabs & Hoodies” was featured at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C. as part of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s CROSSLINES: A Culture Lab of Intersectionality.