NY: Oral Histories Pay Tribute to Muslim Women


The gallery at Harriet's Alter Ego is a small, spare space in the rear of a delightfully stylish women's clothing and accessory store on Brooklyn's Flatbush Ave., blocks from Grand Army Plaza.

Nsenga Knight is making history there.

The 26-year-old Brooklyn filmmaker chose the space to mount a stunning show, "As the Veil Turns: Female Pioneers of the American Muslim Community."

The show is stunning in its simplicity and depth; it includes only nine 30-inch-by-20-inch black-and-white photographs of African-American women of various ages, all of whom have been observant Sunni Muslims since 1975.

But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, each picture comes with headphones and a small MP3 player attached. Hold the play button down for five seconds and the pictures come to life - the women tell their stories of faith and family, of lives in and out of a religious context.

"I wanted it to be an oral history, so the stories are told like they wanted them told," said Knight, 26, who has been a practicing Sunni Muslim her entire life. "With these tapes, people can go back and say this is what the person said because they heard them say it."

She's been so faithful to that creed that it's doubtful most people will listen to all nine of the histories at a stretch, if ever, because the interviews range from 90 minutes to three hours in length.

Most people won't have 22 hours to spare - yes, a collective two hours short of a day's worth of oral history hangs on the gallery walls. The women of the exhibit range in age from 44 to 79 years old, and tell tales both comic and tragic, all providing insight into a way of life foreign to those outside the faith.

On one tape, a woman tells how her mother decided to join the faith on Nov. 10, 1969. Though she felt Muslim women she saw looked "sad," as she puts it, the mother still felt the faith calling her. (MORE)

 


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