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Redefining WE

In Make An Impact by Gary2 Comments

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!

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For those who don’t know, for the last 7 months I have been working on a nationwide photography project to bring together Muslim women and Christian women called “Redefining WE”. I collaborated with [primarily] female photographers around the United States to create a collection of images that dismantle 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 of the sets of photos from the exhibit:redefining-we-event-courtney-christenson-3Left Photo by: Joey Bertocchini
Right Photo by: Marie Monforteredefining-we-event-courtney-christenson-1Top 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)redefining-we-event-courtney-christenson-4Photos by: Christine Otteredefining-we-event-courtney-christenson-2Photos 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.

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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.

redefining-we-event-courtney-christenson-10redefining-we-event-courtney-christenson-9The 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 who were very different from themselves. “We” are all women. (Cue the happy tears)

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.

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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 (here in the Seattle area) in October, and potentially a couple of other venues in the Puget Sound/Seattle area before it hopefully travels to Southern California to be displayed. There is also an organization in Atlanta that is hoping to host it. So this is not the end, but only the beginning!

If you are interested in hosting the exhibit and a dialogue event (anywhere in the world), please contact me for more information.

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.

Comments

  1. Doris Rauhut

    Such a wonderful idea. I hope it travels far and wide.

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