Millions of people rallied for the Women’s March in D.C. yesterday — and in other cities across the globe on the basis that one’s liberation is bound in each other — to ensure that all women are treated fairly and equally.
Photographer Ridwan Adhami, a Muslim, has been making a statement in the art and photography world for more than 15 years. And, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock to keep from watching or reading the negative news , we’re pretty sure you have seen one of the most famous photos used as a symbol of strength for women everywhere today. She is fierce and majestic; bold and beautiful; and serves as reminder to all who rests their eyes upon her that the Muslim woman is a part of the American fabric.
Adhami always believed the photo would have a life of its own, but never thought it would be used as one of five photos in the “We the People” poster campaign. Millions of copies have been made as the Amplifier Foundation kicked off their campaign on Kickstarter and reached their goal. Muslim Girl had the opportunity to speak with the man behind the amazing photo used in Shepard Fairey’s rendition.
Muslim Girl: How long have you been a photographer?
Ridwan Adhami: I’ve been a professional photographer for about 15 years, dating back to when I was attending NYIT. Although I was not a traditional artist like many around me, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by these brilliant illustrators and animators. I always knew how to tell stories, and I found that photography was the perfect medium to tell those stories.
Where are you from and how has it influenced your perspective on Islam in America?
I was born and raised in Queens, N.Y. My parents were from Syria and came to America in the 60s, and eventually settled in New York in the late 70s.
Although I didn’t have many friends who shared the same faith as me, it was my home that influenced my strong Muslim identity and values.
After college, most of my photography was centered in the music industry, like underground hip hop shows and artists. I started meeting other Muslim artists, like Narcy, who were on the same identity journey as I was – trying to blend their faith and art in a way that was authentic and impactful.
On 9/11, I watched the buildings burning from my terrace in New York City. The initial feeling I had was, “Wow, this is crazy.” But not in a sense of me being a Muslim – it wasn’t about that. It was “Wow, this is my city.” It affected my skyline.
As I started to work with Muslim artists, I wanted to do more for us. It was a desire to make an image of what was stronger than what we had in the Muslim community. I tried to push the envelope. It was important for me to create this level of higher standards – not just for myself, but for all Muslim artists.
How do you think this photograph will help move us forward as a nation?
The photograph was originally created for Muslims, but the image has grown beyond us. It’s being used as an American statement. The image now has even more meaning. Non-Muslims are connected to it and saying, “Yes, this is my America!”
The success of this campaign reflects the need and desire that people wanted something that encompassed what America is to them.
Muslims need to do more with art and imagery. We need to create our own narrative. This progress only comes from within our own desires to move forward. I care a lot about our younger generation. As an artist, as a father, I want to be influence in the lives of my child, as well as yours – to strive for more, intellectually, spiritually, creatively.
What does “We the People” represent?
The intention of “We the People” was created in response to the rising tide of hate, fear and bigotry that followed the 2016 presidential election. It was our way to reclaim true American values and identity. These images can mean whatever you want them to. For some, it’s an image of solidarity, identity, an idea or representation of power – it’s all valid for whoever sees it or holds it.
Do you think your image will go down in history as one that depicts hope?
I can only hope so. This photo was taken ten years ago. It continues to breathe life into anyone who sees it. Just as Obama’s “Hope” poster, the image gives people a sense of pride that they can stand up and stand strong – and that others can stand up, too. It’s solidarity at its best.
After the march, I have been inundated with photos from around the world of people using this image as their statement. It is so inspiring to see it used the way it has been. Our community has given me this unexpected gift by standing up and saying, “This image originated from an artist from our community.” For me, that holds a special meaning. I am doing what I set out to – trying to inspire Muslims to do more.
Art can do something. It does invoke inspiration. It does contribute to change. It can uplift those that need to be elevated.