Muslim youth showcase identity through art at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Close to 50 young Muslims from across Quebec submitted art projects last summer, showcasing their identity and their connection or disconnection to Quebec and Canada.

The Art of Inclusion is the first exhibit of its kind in Canada

Wurood Habib says her collection of photos showing different locations where she prays, is a snapshot of a day in the life of a Muslim. (Kristin Falcao/CBC)

No matter how busy Wurood Habib gets, she always finds time to pray.

However, with school, work and an internship underway, sometimes she has to get creative to find a private spot to lay her prayer mat.

"You're often faced with having to pray where you work, where you study, it's just part of your daily routine," says Habib.

"So, I just wanted to showcase the little places that I found, that are somewhat private, so I could pray five minutes."

Prayer in a Pinch is a collection of photos taken by Wurood Habib, showcasing the different places in Montreal she goes to pray. (Kristin Falcao/CBC)

Habib created a collection of photos of different locations in Montreal where she prays.

Her project is called Prayer in a Pinch, and it's one of 10 art submissions chosen to be part of a new exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The Art of Inclusion showcases artwork by young Muslims in Quebec.

Peter Flegel from the Michaëlle Jean Foundation says the exhibit is the first of its kind to be shown in a major museum in Canada.   

"These are young people who have quite a lot to say, incredible ideas and quite a lot of creativity," says Flegel.

"Sometimes [they] are misunderstood, or stigmatized, and sometimes face barriers in terms of achieving their aspirations."

Welcome to Canada by Hejer Chelbi projects the difficulty encountered by Muslim youth settling in Canada, inviting visitors to sit on an unsteady chair. (Kristin Falcao/CBC)

Close to 50 young Muslims from across Quebec, aged 15 to 30, submitted art projects last summer, exploring their identity and their connection or disconnection to Quebec and Canada. 

Marilyn Lajeunesse, the educational programs officer for the museum, was on the jury that selected the finalists. She says they looked for unique, high-quality art.

In the end, nine of the 10 winners ended up being female.

This self-portrait was created by Zahraa Sbaiti. Alongside the portrait, the artist asked the public how veiled women can integrate themselves into Quebec culture.

The Crown, an acrylic and oil painting by Zahraa Sbaiti, is a self-portrait that reflects her sense of identity as a Quebecer, and as a woman who wears the veil.

One striking art installation is ten bags of water hanging from hooks, each one pierced by a pencil, yet none are leaking. It's called Escape by Yousra Benziane, who says the pencils represent the media's simplistic depiction of Muslims, and the water shows the permeability of Muslim communities, when faced with negative treatment.

Escape is an art installation by Yousra Benziane, which uses pencils and bags water to talk about how Muslims are resilient when faced with negative treatment in the media.

Diversity within the Muslim world

"It's a very unique opportunity for the millennials of Muslim faith to make their voices heard," says Fo Niemi, from the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations.   

Niemi says each artwork projects an important social message about who each Muslim Canadian is, and how they see the world around them.

"[The exhibit] illustrates the diversity within the Muslim world, within the Muslim community right here in Montreal," says Niemi. 

Mercedeh Baroque says Muslim women should have the power to define their individual faith and identity. (Kristin Falcao/CBC)

Mercedeh Baroque created a short film called Daughters of the Believers. It includes Baroque and several of her female Muslim friends, who associate with the same punk movement, and are all struggling with their identities.

"The Taqwacore movement [is] a combination of punk and Islam," says Baroque. "Those were two parts of my identity that I wanted to bring together, and showcase how this plays into the greater struggle that Muslim women have, in trying to find their path in this society."

Daughters of the Believers is a short film by Mercedeh Baroque, which addresses the identity crisis faced by some Muslim women in Quebec.

The exhibit is attracting attention internationally, from museums in France and the U.S., that are planning similar projects.

Members from museums in Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and New York will be coming to Montreal for Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, to take part in a forum on the integration of Muslim youth into Quebec and Canadian society. 

"We are witnessing an upsurge of hate and divisive rhetoric," says Peter Flegel. "This [exhibit] really shows that the arts can provide a really safe space and opportunity, to break down the divisions, come together, build bridges and really work to improving our society."

The Art of Inclusion is a free exhibit, and runs until Jan. 8 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.