Munira Ahmed, a Bangladeshi American from New York, was photographed 10 years ago on Wall Street. Her traditional hijab replaced by one made with an American flag and eyes striking the camera. Years later, American contemporary street artist, Shepard Fairey, saw this photo and recreated Ahmed’s look of deviance that would ignite the entire country.
In an interview with The Guardian, Ahmed expressed the underlying meaning of the image, as well as why it’s important to her.
“It’s about saying, ‘I am American just as you are…I am American and I am Muslim, and I am very proud of both.”
The original photo, before Fairey recreated it through his street art, was taken by Queens-based photographer, Ridwan Adhami, in 2007. The purpose at the time was to shed light on the mistreatment of Muslim-Americans after September 11, 2001. Adhami said in The Guardian article the photo has resurfaced numerous times since it was first released.
“It went viral before viral was really a thing when it was posted on Muslim blogs by people thinking it was kinda cool. Now it’s getting a third life that’s way bigger than it ever was previously.”
Through Fairey’s resurrection of the photo, it has circulated around the Trump Resistance Movement and has been seen used in protests around the globe, most recently at the Women’s March on Washington, according to Fairey’s Instagram. But, this image is not the first iconic photo in his vast portfolio. For example in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, Fairey created an image that defined what Obama meant for America.
Fairey presents a very “V for Vendetta” style in his street work, which immediately grabs the attention of people passing by. It’s meant to look like a piece of propaganda, but not in the way it manipulates your thoughts, like in George Orwell’s “1984.” All of his photos are a political statement, and are meant to change someone’s viewpoint of the world by a glance of his art. It also inspires movements and makes people get out there to take positive action. Here are some of Fairey’s most iconic works in the last decade.
In a Los Angeles Times article, Fairey said he chose “We the People” for his most recent campaign because he wanted to convey a message of America being a “melting pot” and inclusive. To him, the phrase means everyone, and everyone should have the right to freely express themselves, whether that’s through creating street art, or marching for equal rights. In the article, he explains how everyone should feel when looking at his artwork: “Whether you’re Muslim, Latino or black, we’re all Americans. I want this campaign to be about us seeing ourselves in each other and feeling a connection to one another.”