Arts and Culture Community

A new photo exhibit opening Thursday at the Muhammad Ali Center aims to highlight the rights of and justice issues faced by refugee women. The opening of the exhibit, called “Shining A Light,” coincides with International Women’s Day.

This is the fifth year the center has hosted the exhibit, but the theme changes each year. This year, it’s Experiences of Refugee Women. It will include thirty-five photographs picturing people from ten refugee groups including Somali, Iraqi, Bhutanese and Congolese. The photos capture the everyday lives of refugee women as well as issues of gender-based violence, education and livelihood.

“It was important for us to not be exploitative when looking at these photos because we did realize that they were rather raw and just covered some really hard topics,” says Bess McHone, collections associate at the Ali Center.

Worldwide, women are disproportionately affected by displacement.

“Suddenly they’re also collecting water, going out and collecting firewood, they’re taking on the responsibility of elderly parents,” said Dale Buscher, senior director for programs at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “The responsibility and the workload that women carry while they’re displaced just increases tremendously. And I think some of that continues, obviously with different activities when they enter a country of resettlement like the U.S.”

Portia Watson

“Your Name Means Luck” by Portia Watson. One of the photos at the Shining A Light exhibit

Emily Bove of Women Thrive Alliance said the depiction of refugee women in media rarely goes beyond tropes of being helpless, traumatized victims.

“Many women’s professional lives are also interrupted with displacement. We see a lot of refugee women from Syria who were doctors, were teachers, were scientists, were lawyers,” she said.

Though many of the subjects in Ali Center’s exhibition are women, Soha Saiyed said gender was not a consideration when finalizing the participating photographers.

Saiyed, an attorney at Abney Law Office in Louisville, was one of the three women judges who worked with curators to choose the final 35 images out of 75 submissions. She said the judges didn’t know the gender of the photographers.

“We didn’t want to choose solely on the gender of the photographer,” Saiyed said.

Saiyed said her work as a lawyer helps her see the balance of struggle and resilience in humanity.

“Those are types of images that strike a chord with me,” she says on selecting the final photos.

Bove says that International Women’s Day is a chance to elevate the voices of marginalized women, which includes refugee women, rural women, girls, women in the LGBT movement and religious minorities in their respective countries.

“All around the world women are facing very similar challenges,” says Bove. “And I think this day kind of unites all of those experiences and unites all of those stories.”

The Shining A Light exhibit will run through June 24 at the Muhammad Ali Center.