“Art reminds us that we belong here.”
-Toni Morrison, The Source of Self Regard, 2019
A long history of orientalist tropes and media stereotypes has dominated mainstream representations of Muslim people in the West. Although the recorded history of Muslim-identified communities in Canada begins in 1854 with the story of James and Agnes Love, a young couple from Scotland, our collective histories and experiences have been overshadowed by stereotypical depictions in Canadian media and collective memory.
This continual, ongoing misrepresentation has left our identities constantly contested, whether through Islamophobic violence or divisive political rhetoric regarding the hijab or niqab. From personal experience, I know these actions and words have left many of us questioning our own sense of belonging and identity.
Generations aims to complicate the generally simplistic depiction of Muslim communities by asserting our diverse narratives —past and present — through multigenerational portraits and shared stories, particularly in the context of Canada’s collective consciousness. My goal for this work is to make space for women’s stories, which are so often sidelined in both marginal and mainstream narratives. These photographs of family units, in which a matriarchal figure is usually portrayed as a carrier of wisdom and keeper of cultural and family narratives, are intended to draw attention to both generational similarities and differences.
Authors and historians have begun the process of documenting Muslim Canadian histories, and as a portrait photographer I wanted to expand upon their work. My intention is to build an intergenerational record of our gendered experiences, one that accounts for how we would like to be visually represented. This series of multigenerational group portraits features women of families that are first through to fourth generation Canadians. They immigrated as early as 1901 and as recently as 2008, and come from a multitude of places and cultures, from Fiji to Lebanon to Somalia to Albania. Additionally, they speak a variety of languages, have wide-ranging careers, passions, and goals, and belong to different Islamic or ethnic communities all across Canada.
This project is an invitation to you--community members and viewers--to relate and connect, to share and celebrate, to photograph and keep written records of yourself and your chosen families, and to claim space for your stories. As Thy Phu and Elspeth Brown assert, “family photographs…are technologies of enacting a future, right now, in the present, in order to create a future that hasn’t happened yet, but must.”
This project has benefited greatly from the mentorship, guidance, and support of Brett Story and Don Snyder, both of whom I am extremely grateful for. I would also like to thank Katy McCormick, Vid Ingelevics, and Sara Angelucci for their insight at different stages of this work.
I cannot thank my family enough for not only their support with this project, but with all my creative endeavors. Thank you to my mother, Allison Barton Youssef, who has fostered my creativity and love of photography since I was 14. Everything I make is dedicated to her, for I wouldn’t be the photographer or person I am without her unconditional love and support. Thank you to my husband, Shawn Hymers, who encourages me, motivates me, bounces ideas with me, is my second pair of eyes, is the first pass editor to everything I write, and builds me up everytime I struggle and fall down. He has supported me every step of every project, including this one, which he even coded and developed this very website for.
This project was funded with thanks to several scholarships and awards: Silk Road Institute Creative Arts Grant, Mort Greenberg Award granted by the Documentary Media MFA Program, and the SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s Award.