A newly printed version of Azd Al-Kadasi ’14’s “I am Williams” poster was revealed on Claiming Williams day last Thursday alongside 59 original posters featuring members of the College community. These posters were a part of Celebrating Our Identities, a photo installation created by Aseel Abulhab ’15 and Salma Mohammed ’16 to show solidarity with Al-Kadasi, whose poster was defaced last October, and to celebrate the manifold identities that make up the College community.
Celebrating Our Identities originated from a conversation between Abulhab and Mohammed after they learned of the defacement of the poster in Paresky. “We knew we wanted to do something, as two friends of [Al-Kadasi’s] and as members of the Williams community,” Abulhab said. While the campus responded to the hate crime in a variety of ways, including reaching out to the administration and hosting discussions with clubs, Abulhab and Mohammed decided that they would take an original approach, demonstrating solidarity with Al-Kadasi through photography.
In collaboration with the Photography Club, Dean Bolton and the Communications Office, Abulhab and Mohammed took photos of members of the community over several days last November.
Abulhab said, “We decided the best way to both celebrate the unique identities of Williams and to show solidarity with Azd, was to take pictures of people but have them use Azd’s quote as a template to write about their own identities.” The template asked participants to think about ways they would identify themselves and their experiences at Williams in addition to the things they believe in and the experiences they create.
While the project was a collaborative effort, Abulhab and Mohammed wanted to emphasize the importance of the photo campaign as a stand-alone project.
“We did this project as independent agents not associated with any organization precisely in order to convey the message that it is not one group’s responsibility to respond to such acts, but our responsibility collectively,” Abulhab said.
The result was especially powerful for those who felt a connection to what happened and wanted an outlet to express their solidarity, including creators, participants and onlookers.
“I’m continually reminded that every individual here embodies a vast, complex set of experiences,” said Erica Moszkowski ’15, a participant in the photo campaign. “When I heard what had happened to Azd’s portrait, I felt like someone had denied that, and I didn’t really know what to do about it. Seeing all the portraits on Claiming Williams Day was beautiful,” she said.
Onlookers meticulously read the accompanying quotes as they passed by the exhibit, heartened by the compassion and resolve each member of the community embodied. “I think it’s amazing that you can look at a picture and try and gather a few things you think about that person, but reading the captions next to them makes you realize there are so many unique things about the person, things you’d never know unless you talked to them,” Taylor Knoble ’18 said. Janice Lee ’17 added, “I feel really lucky to know a lot of these people who participated in the photo campaign.”
The impact of Celebrating Our Identities extends far beyond Claiming Williams day.
“The installation will be up for two weeks, and then everyone who took their pictures will have their PDF sent to them so that they can continue to think about solidarity, ally-ship, identity, acceptance and, most importantly, tolerance,” Abulhab said. In addition, the creators of the project are open to continued dialogue about the project at any time, welcoming concerns and criticism as well.
Abulhab and Mohammed are incredibly thankful to have had each other throughout the process. And as the College continues to reject intolerance and embrace its various identities, Abulhab concluded, “We should respond to acts of hate by opening our hearts wider and realizing just how many allies we have and how many people are trying to be our allies.”