"Exhibiting You" - Story

When Tradition Empowers Women

By: Zeyba Rahman
Other authors: Amanda Koster
Submitted: 03/03/2008

Beyond Harmony - Women's Voices from the Islamic WorldThe Hadra of Chefchaouen is one of the four Moroccan women's musical ensembles who recorded for the audio CD series Women's Voices from the Islamic World. The first of the CD series, Beyond Harmony - Women's Voices from the Islamic World: Morocco was recorded entirely on location in the regions where the music is rooted. It is a musical journey from the mountains to the Sahara desert that explores the rich, varied of Islamic musical traditions prevalent in Morocco.

Zeyba Rahman, Project Director and Producer, traveled in 2006 with her production team which, included Seattle photographer Amanda Koster who was focused on those moments in between recordings to create a complete sense of these remarkable women artists. The resulting CD is launching with exhibitions and panel discussions about the role of Muslim women artists in our dynamic and fast globalizing world.

The resulting exhibition combines Ms. Koster's telling images of women musicians from four different regions of Morocco with Ms. Rahman's rich recordings. Ms. Rahman and her team traveled to Khenifra, a mountainous Berber town in the Middle Atlas range, where they first heard Ms. Cherifa Kersit's commanding voice. They visited Taroudant, a historic town in the South that is as red as Chefchaouen is blue.

Once there, Ms. Rahman recorded the Bnat Charjan ensemble perform polyrhythmic music typical of the Sheikhat tradition... Their Moroccan tour concluded in Guelmim, in the Draa valley, where the Hassani Guedra group, Bnat Aïchata, introduced them to traditional Saharan pentatonic melodies.

The Beyond Harmony - Women's Voices from the Islamic World: Morocco project exhibition is designed as a "beyond the veil" experience. Visitors enter the gallery space where suspended fabric panels display compelling images of the women. Where viewers slip into the private sphere of women in their communities while, hearing their music in Arabic and Berber. Ms. Koster's movement filled photographic panels combine textures with images to create a sensation of the hadra ceremony. It is an almost magical, feminine ambiance.

During an era of galloping globalization where cultural distinctions and nuances are flattened out, the Beyond Harmony project seeks to dispel the ubiquitous stereotype of oppressed, infantilized Muslim women who are constrained from contributing to society. Women like Rahuoum El-Bekkali have become international musical heroines, proving that musical and poetic expression can be a truly empowering female experience. Not only do these songs depict religious poems, invocations and popular songs, but they shed light onto important cultural traditions that have been passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter. With each successive generation these incredible women strengthen their identity as women, Moroccans, and Muslims.

Zeyba Rahman, Producer of Beyond Harmony

Zeyba Rahman, a cultural and social entrepreneur, uses the connectivity of the arts to build collective synergy that inspires social change. As President of Jungli Billi, a New York based consultancy that works globally, Rahman applies project management experience to conceive/lead cultural/educational initiatives engaging performing arts, visual art, film, poetry, dialogue and debate. Projects are implemented with strategic, multi-sector partnerships. Companion conferences examine critical civil society issues to explore solutions.

From 1997-2007 Rahman was one of the Directors of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music and its Fès Forum: Giving A Soul to Globalization. Ongoing responsibilities included fundraising, partnership development, program and audience development, outreach and communication. She worked closely, cross strata and sectors with NGOs, governments, communities, financial institutions, academia and more. During her tenure, the Festival brought over 650 artists, 60 Forum speakers and over 100,000 people from approximately 25 countries annually to Fès.

She is Project Director/Producer of the Women's Voices from the Islamic World (ongoing) audio and television series. Current, she is Project Director for Illuminating Islam a multi-institutional arts festival and conference scheduled to launch in June 2009 in New York City. The Board Chair of World Music Institute, she is recognized as a leader in cultural/social programming. A popular speaker at global events, Rahman maintains a special interest in environmental, women's leadership and Islamic world's issues.

Amanda Koster, Photographer of Beyond Harmony

Amanda Koster is an internationally acclaimed social documentary photographer committed to worldwide compassion and empowerment. Originally from Geneva Switzerland, Ms. Koster and earned a bachelors degree in anthropology from Southern Connecticut State University and later studied photography at the International Center for Photography in New York City.

She works with magazines, design agencies and international non-profit organizations (Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger, United Way, PATH) around the world. Clients include: The New York Times, Newsweek (USA, Middle East, China), Time Inc. Publications, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, Vision (China), Orange Life (Canada), Fast Company, Business Week, Wired, and Microsoft.

Ms. Koster devotes equal time to her personal projects. Koster was awarded Washington State GAP Grant and additional grants from "Money For Women In the Arts/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund" and the Puffin Foundation for her collaborative project "Women's Voices from the Islamic World: Moroccan Women's Song Project" (beforeharmony.org). The project documents female Berber and Arab Moroccan Musicians and offers a new image of Women in Islam illustrating women devoted to their passion and mission on earth.

Other award winning projects include; "AIDS Is Knocking" (aidsisknocking.org), documentary work about AIDS orphans and widows in Kenya, "This Is Beautiful," (thisisbeautiful.org), a project that redefines the innate beauty of all women. Grants from Kodak Professional support her projects.

In addition Ms. Koster has worked extensively with youth media projects internationally, teaching photography as a tool for visual storytelling creating a voice and outlet for underrepresented youth.

Amanda is featured in the book: "In Their Shoes." (by Deborah Reber) The book's goal is to arm a generation of girls with the information and the inspiration of women thriving in their fields to make smart choices and realize their own dreams.

Donate Online »