When a wave of violence and police brutality against young African Americans occurred a few years ago, Tracy Keza was paying close attention. "Images were just being made and shared online in a way that I felt wasn't productive. ... It was just a cycle of one bad thing after another," said Keza, a native of Kigali, Rwanda, and a senior at Trinity College. "First it was Trayvon, then Ferguson, then the shooting at the black church.
"I was frustrated," she said. "The media and the photography didn't feel like there was anything tangible for me to do."
Out of that observation came the exhibit "Hijabs & Hoodies." The show will be up for three days only, April 20 to April 22, at the Broad Street Gallery on campus. Keza will be present at the opening reception April 20 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The exhibit shows 11 photographs, some of Muslim women wearing hijabs and some of young black men wearing hoodies. All are members of the Hartford community.
Keza is majoring in environmental science and minoring in studio arts. The project stemmed from a class Keza took, "Global Agitation: Art and Activism," taught by Anida Yoeu Ali. Hartford residents will remember Ali from her performance-art piece "The Red Chador" in October 2015, during which she walked the streets of Hartford and West Hartford wearing a spangly red chador, to gauge reaction and engage in conversation with residents.
At that time, Ali said of her "red chador" project: "This generation is inundated with images presenting Islam in an extremely Islamophobic way. It's important to engage the audience and address those issues. With a chador or a burqa, huge concepts come up. It's the global image of Muslim women. It's a very repressive image. But that's not the case for women who choose to wear it."
Keza's photography project expands on that philosophy. It began as an on-campus demonstration. "I took portraits of my friends, who were either black or Muslim or both," she said. "I projected the images onto the side of the chapel at Trinity College at night."
She combined images of hijabs and hoodies "to show the intersection between religious and racial profiling, between anti-blackness and Islamophobia."
Keza, while working with Ali's media lab Studio Revolt, showed the photographs last May at the Smithsonian Institution. She also spoke recently at Yale University Art Gallery, as part of a panel discussion on "Documenting the African American Liberation Struggle Today."
Ali said of Keza's work, "I have watched Tracy struggle with finding her place and voice as an African international student caught in the American crossfire of racial tension and injustices directed at African American communities. Through her photography, Tracy has discovered a unique position that has allowed her to explore and dissect issues of race, religion, gender."
Keza said her aim is to change the narrative around people of color.
"I want to humanize people who otherwise have been impacted by a broken system that continues to disenfranchise and disembody black and brown people and people from marginalized communities," Keza said.
"By choosing to exhibit these portraits I'm asking people to encounter these faces that are unavoidable. It gives them a sense of visibility and presence. I want to subvert the idea that a black man in a hoodie is somehow dangerous or a criminal or a woman in a hijab is someone connected to ISIS and terrorism."
BROAD STREET GALLERY, 1283 Broad St. in Hartford, will be open to view "Hijabs & Hoodies" on April 20 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., and April 21 and 22 from 2 to 3 p.m.