On April 4, Hilary Hart and Rick Singer debuted their exhibit entitled “Spokane Women Together: Portraits and Stories” in the Jundt Auditorium. In total, there were 26 women who were photographed.
“What was so inspiring was how they did not once talk about their differences, but instead how they came together through food and creating communities,” said Jerri Sheperd, an associate professor who teaches intercultural competence.
The installation was first started when Hilary Hart moved to Spokane eight years ago and raised the question of why women choose to wear hijabs. Hart started connecting with the local mosque and gathered these women together to simply talk about their culture and ended up forming a community.
“I teach about cultural diversity and to be somewhere where so many women are covered was amazing,” Sheperd said after attending a few of these meetings.
While Hart learned ultimately learned the answer to her original question as to why these women wear hijabs, she went away with so much more. She grew to understand that the religion of these amazing and vibrant women was simply only one facet of them, finding that she shared more similarities with these women than differences.
Hart used the money gained from a Spokane Arts Grant Award to fund this project and showcase Spokane’s local diversity. There are interviews with not only Muslim women but also a Holocaust survivor, Bosnian women, Christians from Malawi, and a Chinese American Jew. Many of the women have incredibly high-profile jobs and are highly educated. The exhibit goes on to show just how similar these diverse women are to one and another and to everyone; how they love dancing and singing, cooking and skate boarding. While these women have gone through so much it has not ruined their outlook on life, they still love their lives, their careers, Spokane, and America.
“I got involved doing some of the interviews,” said Sheperd, who later got involved with bringing the original showcase event to GU as a part of her intercultural competency development class. “At the beginning of this project, I definitely think many women were scared to go out of the house in their hijab to do shopping or go to lunch. But now they have more of a support group,” Sheperd said.
When someone does something to make themselves visibly different, like wearing a hijab, they are opening themselves up for prejudice and discrimination. They were concerned about acts of hate and aggression, however, they persisted because who they are and what they believe are more important to them than the opinions of others.
“Hilary Hart reached out to connect with Muslim women in Spokane to better understand their culture and to bring women of diverse faiths together,” said Professor Mary Farrell, who was a subject in the exhibit.
The exhibit includes photographs of Spokane women taken by Hilary Hart’s husband, Rick Slinger, and stories about the experiences these women have had.
“From this group, Hilary and her husband Rick Singer created this wonderful project of documenting the women in the group and presenting it in Spokane to demonstrate our common experiences as women enriched by our experiences in life,” Farrell said.
The stories aren’t associated with the photograph of the person who wrote it, which gives the people exhibited a heightened sense of unity. For the photographs, each woman was asked to bring in something that was symbolic to them and their identity.
The reason that GU was chosen to house these pieces was partly due to Farrell.
"As they were looking for various venues to display the work, besides the video projected on the Fox Theater throughout April, I suggested the cases in the art department,” Farrell said.
The goal of this installation is to teach others about the culture that is so readily available within this community that lies just under the surface.
“So many people are ready to judge a woman because she wears a hijab and say that she is oppressed,” Sheperd said. “But she is not oppressed by her husband. She’s not oppressed; that is simply part of who she is.”
The women’s photographs as well as their stories will be housed in the Kreielsheimer gallery within the Jundt Museum for the duration of April and is definitely powerful work that deserves to be seen.
“We are so privileged to have this show and I am very excited by all of the visitors who are viewing it daily,” Farrell said.