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Changing narratives: ‘Spokane Women Together’ features portraits, stories of city’s quiet diversity

UPDATED: Thu., March 29, 2018, 4:34 p.m.

Hilary Hart couldn’t understand why a Muslim woman would willingly wear a hijab in Spokane – a city with seemingly limited diversity – so she called up the area’s only mosque and asked.

That was three years ago.

Her curiosity has since led to a thriving friendship with more than 20 women, dubbed “Spokane Women Together” and starting next week, the “Spokane Women Together: Portraits and Stories” photo exhibition – an outgrowth of the group.

“We realized that really the only way to get to know other cultures was to be exposed to the people who belonged to the cultures,” said Hart, a local graphic designer.

The photo exhibit will feature women – Muslim and non-Muslim – who want to change the hostile narrative surrounding Islam and want to praise Spokane’s quiet diversity. Their portraits, taken by Rick Singer and funded in part through a Spokane Arts Grant Award, will be displayed at the downtown Spokane Public Library, Gonzaga University’s Kreielsheimer Gallery and projected onto the Fox Theater.

The women’s stories will also be displayed, though they’ll be randomized and not associated with any particular photograph.

“My goal is for Muslim women to be seen as part of the fabric of Spokane and for people to know their contributions are significant, but also similar,” Hart said. “We’re celebrating our accomplishments and diversity.”

Among the 26 women photographed is a Bosnian woman, a Holocaust survivor, a Christian from Malawai, a Chinese American Jew, an atheist musician, and a Muslim from Pakistan.

Singer, known for his 2009 Spokane Musicians exhibit and his 2007 Spokane Artists and Arts Benefactors exhibit, said he was happy to take on the project when Hart, his wife, asked. It’s their first project together.

“I’m a third generation Spokanite, and Spokane hasn’t had this much ethnic diversity. It’s just great to see so many people from around the world in my hometown,” he said.

Christina Kamkoski moved to Spokane from Africa in 2010 and said it’s time an exhibition like this happens in Spokane.

“I don’t want to always be different. From the moment I talk, I don’t want to have to explain myself. We really want to be part of this community and share our culture, but it’s not just about our accents or the hijabs we’re wearing or the religious affiliations we have, it’s about humans contributing” she said.

She said the photo exhibit, and the Spokane Women Together group, includes doctors and researchers who are contributing to make the world better.

Dr. Rasha Alqadi recently moved to Spokane from the East Coast and quickly joined the women’s group, which includes regular potlucks and community outings. She said she had never experienced people showing an interest in Muslim women before.

“Sometimes we feel like we have to prove ourselves, but you just embraced us. That was amazing,” she said, turning to Hart while visiting in Singer’s studio.

Alqadi wears a hijab and said it can be awkward at times. When people stare, she said, she smiles to show she’s not scary.

“Sometimes people smile back,” she said.

Alqadi is one of the Muslim women who will be featured in the photo exhibit. She hopes that people seeing it, and witnessing the friendships these women have forged, will show how people can have things in common other than their religion and appearance.

The Spokane Women Together exhibit opens at Gonzaga, in the Jundt building, on Wednesday with a lecture at 5 p.m. The exhibit will be on display at third floor of the downtown Spokane Public Library beginning April 6 and will continue through May. A 5-minute video of the photographs will be projected onto the south side of the Fox Theater after dark throughout April.