Last fall LaGuardia Community College photography students and faculty devoted two semesters to a project they fervently embraced.
They wanted to illuminate the various life experiences of the American Muslim community, so they captured the “Faces of Islam,” through thought-provoking portraits. While several images were shot by students as individual projects, other works were the result of photos that were taken of subjects who modeled in the classroom.
The unique exhibit, which opens Saturday, can be viewed at the Queens Museum through March 1.
“The premise of this photo project is to document the diversity within the Muslim community and show that they are not a monolith,” LaGuardia’s Alexandra Ben Othman said. “My role was to bring in the subjects, many of whom I’ve known for several years; others, I was introduced to through people who were photographed.”
Folks included in the “Face of Islam” project range from politicians to students, activists and even a princess.
“When selecting my subjects, my first instinct was to reach out to those groups who one wouldn’t necessarily think of as Muslim,” said Othman. “Many of my earlier subjects were from Central and South America, since Latinos are the fastest-growing convert group in America.”
Because African Americans are the oldest and one of the largest Muslim groups in America, she said it was important to represent them as well.
“And then of course, we have people from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Palestine,” she said. “Some other groups include a woman from Kazakhstan, a Tanzanian of Indian descent, a white convert and a Filipino from the island of Mindanao, who is the daughter of a sultan.”
Two LaGuardia students, who captured images that are on display in the “Faces of Islam” exhibit, share their unique experiences.
Gianni Sanchez Cruz, 27, was born in Ecuador and lives in the Bronx.
“As a newcomer in this country, working on this project was an exciting experience and helped me grow as a photographer. Before taking these pictures I didn’t have a clear idea about the Islamic religion or its followers,” he said. “Where I come from we don’t have enough information about Islam. I grew up watching stereotypes of Muslims and those images do not give the correct concept about it.”
Cruz recalled that he was very nervous when he first started the project because he didn’t know what to expect or how to talk to his subjects. Since his subjects were politicians and writers, Cruz’s idea was to photograph them in a corporate way, to give them a professional, but also natural look. He said the experience gave him an opportunity to expand his understanding of Islam and its followers and was a great way for him to learn about different cultures, languages, values, and beliefs.
“Now I can come to my own opinion about Islam. I can erase all the Muslim stereotypes that the media built in my mind,” he said.
Student Jorge Luis Rodriguez, 21, lives in Washington Heights and came to the city from the Dominican Republic.
He and classmate Cruz had the opportunity to photograph many people on their own.
“This past (fall) semester, as part of my Studio Lighting 1 class, I had the good fortune to work on the ‘Faces of Islam’ project. My classmates and I were really excited about the project. Most of us didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
So, when the subjects arrived at their classroom for the first day of shooting, the students were surprised to see such a diverse group.
“We had Muslims from around the world: Iranian, Pakistani, African Americans, whites, Salvadorian, and Mexican,” he said. “I was really not expecting a Dominican Muslim lady, but there she was; that was just amazing.”
He said seeing so many people from so many parts of the world that follow the same religion was a beautiful experience.
“Together, we photographed a lot of important people, which was a bit nerve-racking at first, but after that first session, we had it locked down.”
Rodriguez recalled that every location photo shoot from then on went smoothly.
He said the project taught them a lot: “From coming up with creative ideas on the spot to understanding and appreciating the Islamic religion more and more.”
If you Go
“Faces of Islam”
When: Feb. 7 - March 1
Where: Queens Museum, New York Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Cost: Suggested — $8/adults, $4/students and seniors, Free/children under 12
Contact: (718) 592-9700
©2015 Community News Group