Online photo series celebrates women of colour in Quebec City

A dozen women from Quebec City have come together to showcase the strength and resilience of women of colour.

'It was all love, sisterhood': Women form friendship through stories of resilience

Michelle Osbourne, left, is the creative director of Project Femme Noire. Santana Burke was one of 12 women who modelled for the project. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

Ever since Michelle Osbourne moved to Quebec City six years ago, she felt there was a lack of activities commemorating Black History Month in the area. This year, she decided she would change that herself. 

"I'm from Toronto, which is such a multicultural place and there's so much that goes on in Black History Month. When I came to Quebec City, I felt like there was nothing going on," Osbourne said on CBC's Quebec AM

Osbourne wanted to celebrate the city's women of colour through a photo series, where she could tell their stories. Last month, she got to work, hiring a photographer and renting out a studio. She put out a call for women who were willing to model for her project, which she labelled, Project Femme Noire. 

"I thought nobody was going to show up," said Osbourne.  "I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm paying my photographer, I paid for the space and nobody's going to show up.'"

But Osbourne was wrong. As she waited in the studio, a dozen women of different ages and backgrounds walked through the door. 

"Nobody knew each other. And when they got there, it was all love, sisterhood," Osbourne said.

Osbourne described how the women, who had only just met, traded stories of what brought them to the photo shoot and, in some cases, stories of what brought them to Quebec. 

When the photo shoot was over, Osbourne published the photos on the Project Femme Noire Instagram account and website. Next to each of the women's photos is a short biography and fact about her.

'I felt at home'

Santana Burke, a 22-year-old mother and poet, was one of the women who decided to pose for the project, hoping to learn more about her roots. 

"I felt at home there," Burke said, describing how she felt the day of the photo shoot. 

Raised in foster homes and by a white family, Burke was surprised at how quickly she was able to relate to the other women at the photo shoot. 

"People complain about braided hair or that your hair is different, or stuff like that, and to feel that type of sisterhood come together with people that didn't even know each other, it was really nice," said Burke. 

Osbourne asked the models to wear the outfits they felt most confident in, and asked them to put on bright red lipstick, as a symbol of "being bold, authentic and unapologetic in their voice."

She said some of the women at the photo shoot were hesitant to wear the red lipstick, having been told their whole lives that the colour was too bold for them. She said that is exactly the reason she chose the colour. 

"People make us feel like we can't and we shouldn't. So I want you to have that boldness so they see you," she said, reciting what she told one of the models. 

With the women all dressed in black, Osbourne felt it was important for each of them to wear head wraps of different colours, as a symbol of "uniqueness and individuality." 

Burke explained that the head wraps also helped her to become closer to the other models. 

"That was so new for me. I never ever tried a head wrap before and I was really happy. They wrapped my head for me. I just sat there and they did everything," Burke said. 

Though this started as a Black History Month project, Osbourne would like to continue posting photos and telling the stories of other women of colour in Quebec City throughout the year. 

With files from CBC's Quebec AM