Revisiting Alternative Facts
Before coming to the United States to attend RISD, I was worried about not fitting in and feeling unsafe. I didn’t expect people to understand why I prioritize my faith and cover my head. But that was okay with me; I am proud of who I am and where I come from.
Witnessing the latest political events taking place around the U.S. was an eye-opening experience, however. Throughout the fall, I noticed the media contributing to distorting facts, which, in part, led to the result of the elections. It frustrates me when Muslims are portrayed as terrorists. It is inaccurate to equate Islam with terrorism. By doing so, the media (along with governments and individuals) is molding Muslims into a stereotype. Consequently, Muslims are now being feared, ridiculed, and misrepresented. Communities are being singled out, despite Islam being a diverse religion practiced by people of various backgrounds and races all over the world.
My mistake was to believe that these misrepresentations represent the majority. On January 29th, I was fortunate enough to attend the Statehouse Rally here in Providence. Thousands turned out to protest against Trump’s recent immigration policy, which banned those from seven specific countries from entering the U.S. I witnessed people standing up for each other, acknowledging and celebrating their differences in the face of bigotry and discrimination.
I needed to document this moment in my life because in addition to being historically prominent, it taught me that collective exchange can help to eradicate misinformation. As I walked around people, taking their pictures, some of them held up their signs for me, and some were shaking my hands. I was mesmerized and emotional because suddenly the garment on my head represented for others what it represents for me: Equality and Resistance. I, a Muslim woman, had temporarily left my Muslim homeland and unexpectedly found home between the arms and signs of the people assembled there.
At the same time, I couldn’t let go of my grudge toward the deceiving acts of representation that nurture fear in some people’s minds, Muslims or otherwise, making it seem as if people are either afraid of Muslims or are afraid to be one. So, in a strange moment of inspiration, I decided to switch from documenting the facts around me—people and their signs calling for equal rights—to picturing how easy it is to manipulate people’s words and intentions.
It took me a simple act of re-positioning my lens to deliver “alternative facts” within my framed pictures. When presented in a gallery space, these cropped shots were presented alongside the wider shots that showed a fuller picture of the scene. I saw it as an opportunity to educate people about the necessity of checking all the facts around us, for sometimes the least credible sources are the loudest ones. Small magnifying loupes allowed viewers to zoom in and create their own possible “alternatives.”
I feel I might have betrayed the people at the rally by changing their voices and their intentions. It was not easy for me to do so. But I was doing to them what the media had done to me.