W.A.N.T // We Are Not Them
W.A.N.T, an acronym for We Are Not Them, is an experience that contributes positive imagery to the conversation of Muslims in contemporary America. Over a decade after September 11th, 2001, our community still struggles to break away from the negative associations of that tragic event. W.A.N.T aims to change that.
This project is an experiment in creating a better understanding of Muslims in America by asking people to recognized, engage and listen. W.A.N.T is designed to start a dialogue and in essence showcases the rich personality and diversity within this community through interactive video portraits and stories.
While New Yorkers of all shapes and colors seemed to come together during the aftermath of 9/11, South Asians and Muslim Americans were singled out and ostracized. The media bombarded the public with negative images of Muslims, perpetuating every stereotype imaginable, fueling the confusion, anger, and bitterness felt by every American in the wake of 9/11.
This was around the time when I was discovering photography as a medium for storytelling and began photographing portraits of South Asians and Muslims in New York City, in an almost desperate attempt to demonstrate that those practicing Islam were not the extremist, fundamentalist that the media wanted people to believe they were.
I created a body of work that illustrated the Muslim American experience. Over a decade later and this story is still relavant and important. I felt it was my responsibility to continue telling this story and add to the conversation in a positive way.
I started thinking about this project in Nancy Hechinger's Cabinets of Wonder class where I design a concept exhibit that gave my photography a new form as a pop-up installation in a public space. This class strengthened my desire to continue creating work that addressed this issue.
When thinking about thesis I wanted to make a powerful statement in a light-hearted way and wanted to be socially conscious without being overly political. I also knew that I wanted to get away from the traditional medium of photography and create something more experiential.
After a lot of exploration the idea for the final form of the project came to me in a dream. This dream was based on an visit I had a few months ago to the Gargosian Gallery to see the Richardard Avedon’s exhbit of his large group portraits.
These were beautiful, larger than life, black and white prints of people standing in groups staring at the camera intently. The images dominated the gallery and I remember walking away feeling completely inspired.
In my dream I was back at that gallery viewing the exhibit and as A was walking by one of the images a character from that image came alive, turned towards me and started staring at me, as I was staring back I woke up.
As soon as I woke up I knew what the final piece was going to look like. I set out on creating a large scale interactive video based projection that came to life as you stood in front of it.