A: I took a “Women In Islam” course in my final year of university completing my BFA in Photography from Ryerson University and we were speaking a lot about Muslim women’s representations in historical and present-day media. One class, our teacher invited a guest speaker from a local Muslim women’s organization and one of the speakers said: “I’m tired of Muslim women being painted with the same brush.” I had wanted to start a portrait series for my next school assignment, so I decided at that moment that I would start a photographic portrait series that showed how diverse Muslim women were. Before I began taking any photos I did a lot of research on how the community was feeling and if this project was something the community would appreciate. I began photographing my mother and sisters and quickly started meeting women of all ages, backgrounds, and careers in Vancouver, BC and Toronto, ON and started asking them similar questions about how they feel they are represented, perceived, etc. I then took all the photographs and interviews and started the Instagram, which I have been updating once a week for a year now with inspirational Muslim women.
A: The Sisters Project is a one woman team. Alia Youssef created The Sisters Project in December 2016 and has since been working independently taking the photographs, conducting interviews, and on occasion making videos for the project.
A: Although the series is largely self-funded, some side "projects" have been made possible by generous funders. In Summer 2018, The Sisters Project went across Canada, photographing 80+ women in 12 cities from coast to coast, and that was made possible by a ChangeUp grant given by the Inspirit Foundation. The Sisters Project was exhibited at the Ryerson Image Centre Fall 2018 and that exhibition was funded by Ryerson University's Faculty of Communication and Design and the Office of the Provost. The series was also loaned equipment by Ryerson's Office of the President.
A: My advice to everyone, not just Muslim women, is to hone your story and figure out how to communicate it with your passion. I believe that this project is as successful as it is because I am so passionate about the message. A portfolio of photographs, paintings, songs etc. that you have no personal connection to or that anyone else could make, won’t be what’s successful. Viewers, as well as people in the industry, want to know your motivation and why this particular story is important to you. So if you care about environmental issues, create art about it. If you’re obsessed with animals, make art about it. If you care about mental health, make art about it. Just make sure that you’re in your own art somehow, and make sure you care. Also, remember the purpose of why you’re doing it, because if you stay true to WHY you’re doing it, then nobody’s negative responses can phase you. Remember why you’re making it for yourself and for people like you.