Trinity College Student Receives National Recognition for ‘Hijabs & Hoodies’ Photographs

Artist Tracy Keza ’17 Featured at Smithsonian and on Panel at Yale University Art Gallery
Tracy Keza ’17 speaks at the Yale University Art Gallery on March 9, 2017. Photo by Professor of Physics and Environmental Science Christoph Geiss.​

​Hartford, Connecticut, April 6, 2017 – With her striking photography exhibit, “Hijabs & Hoodies,” MasterCard Foundation Scholar Tracy Keza ’17 explores the stereotyping of African-Americans and Muslims by looking at how clothing can be perceived as a threat. Keza discussed her work at Yale University earlier this year and had her photos featured in 2016 at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Keza, an international student from Rwanda, is majoring in environmental science and minoring in studio arts and aspires to pursue photography in graduate school. Her photographs will be exhibited at Trinity’s Broad Street Gallery on Thursday, April 20, along with work by fellow student Amanda Horan ’17. A public reception for the senior thesis exhibitions will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

“Hijabs & Hoodies” was created by Keza in response to a series of violent events in 2014 and 2015 including the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, a 3-year-old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi washing up on the shores of a Turkish beach, and the political crisis in Burundi. “It was out of frustration,” Keza said of why she was inspired to create the series. “I had fully decided that I was probably going to do photography as a career and I was frustrated that the field that I wanted to go into was part of the problem of circulating a lot of these images.”

​Images from “Hijabs & Hoodies.” Photos by Tracy Keza ’17.

The Trinity course called “Global Agitation: Art and Activism,” taught by 2015-2016 Patricia C. and Charles H. McGill III ’63 Visiting Assistant Professor in International Studies Anida Yoeu Ali, gave Keza the platform to use her passion for photography to address the helplessness she felt by silently witnessing acts of discrimination and violence. The result was a series of photographs of subjects – many of them Trinity students – wearing hijabs or hoodies. Ali said, “I have watched Tracy struggle with finding her place and voice as an African international student caught in the American crossfire of racial tension and injustices directed at African American communities. Through her photography, Tracy has discovered a unique position that has allowed her to explore and dissect issues of race, religion, gender, and diasporic identity from her own lived experiences while finding intersectionality with other marginalized communities.”

On Memorial Day weekend 2016, in collaboration with Studio Revolt, Ali's media lab, Keza’s photographs were exhibited as part of “CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality,” presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building, alongside Ali’s own exhibit. In addition to displaying her existing works, Keza held an open studio and invited self-identifying black and Muslim visitors to participate in a photo shoot to expand the series. “These people are sharing a part of their lives and stories, rather than just sitting down for a portrait,” Keza said.

“The reactions were rewarding,” she added. “A lot of people who stopped to talk or ask about the work had a unique perspective on the work. It helped me understand that everybody is at a different place. Somebody shared with me that they had never seen themselves like that before, while somebody else came up to me and started crying, which is a big statement.”

Tracy Keza ’17 photographs The Rev. Dr. Damaris D. Whittaker of Hartford's Center Church​ for her “Hijabs & Hoodies” series. Photo by Professor of Fine Arts Pablo Delano.​
On March 9, 2017, Keza was invited to be a panelist for a discussion called “Documenting the African American Liberation Struggle Today: Artists in Conversation” at the Yale University Art Gallery. Keza’s conversation with one of the other panelists gave her critical insight into the scope of own artwork. Keza said, “‘Hijabs & Hoodies’ is such a wide topic that it is hard to narrow down on one thing, which can be both a pro and con.”

Keza said that studying at Trinity has given her access to the diverse Hartford community and provided a platform to explore the intersection between anti-blackness and homophobia in America. Keza said, “There is no way Trinity is not intertwined in ‘Hijabs & Hoodies.’ Not just by the very origins of it, but also the academic engagement and conversations that start here.”

While her studio arts thesis focuses on racial and religious profiling in Hartford, Keza wants to travel to more cities with her exhibit. She has been working with different groups to create new portraits and is exploring ways to bring them to life in their subjects’ communities. “It is not just a portrait series or a video installation,” Keza said. “It is a project rooted in love and solidarity that reclaims and subverts the very gaze of people who see a black man in a hoodie and think ‘criminal’ or a woman in a hijab and think ‘ISIS.’”

Professor of Fine Arts Pablo Delano said, “Tracy is an inspiring student because her commitment to her work is absolute. If any young artist is going to change the world with her art work, it’s going to be Tracy.” 

Keza has been featured in articles by the Hartford Courant and News 8.

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18