We Rise by Lifting Each Other Up

Nisa Homes’ event poster for their International Women’s Day event – We Rise by Lifting Each Other.

Members of And Also Too wear many hats. Outside of the studio, production manager Zahra Agjee is a visual artist whose work deals with issues of identity, representation, and the self. She is also the founder of The Truth & Dare Project, an initiative that fosters community building and engages Muslim women in the visual arts.

This past weekend, Zahra spoke in Toronto about her work on a panel at We Rise By Lifting Each Other Up, an event for an International Women’s Day. It was organized by Nisa Homes, a group of transitional homes for immigrant, refugee and Muslim women, and Islamic Relief Canada, which prepares and supports communities in the face of disaster.

The event showcased artwork and culinary creations by Nisa Homes residents, as well as the work of local Toronto visual artists. It was meant to be a “celebration of women who are currently working hard to achieve their goals, no matter how big or small they may be.”

A photograph of 5 people- a moderator and four panelits. The moderator sits on a chair to the left of the photo and four panelists sit on a couch to the right side of the image. The space has a living room feel with a washed brick wall backdrop, there are plants in the space, a warm rug, and a coffee table and plants.
Zahra speaking during the panel discussion on International Women’s Day

Here’s some of what Zahra shared about her practice and her work with The Truth & Dare Project in the panel discussion:

What do you hope to achieve through your art?

My art is a representation of my mind-state and it helps me navigate thoughts, what I’m feeling, and through states of confusion. It helps me work through issues that if not put into a visual form, I won’t understand. It is also a form of self-therapy and care.

For The Truth & Dare Project, I hope to create spaces where Women can come together, use art as engagement, build community and make connections. We’re so often isolated and we don’t have spaces where we can share our stories without having to explain ourselves (as well as explore and engage with the visual arts).

What is the most empowering thing you have found being a Muslim female artist?

For my own art it’s the connections that have been built. I don’t create for others but once you showcase your work, and those conversations start, it really lets you know that you are not alone in what you’re feeling and someone else may experience the same.

For The Truth & Project it’s so much about family and community showing up and that feeling of being supported (through work that is quite heavy).

What is the biggest challenge that you face in general (and how did you overcome this)?

For me, challenges are what drive me and inspire me to do better in my work. If it wasn’t for challenges (that I have faced) I probably wouldn’t be an artist and I probably wouldn’t have started the The Truth & Dare Project.  So these challenges are more of my drive, my driving force — patriarchy, capitalism, injustice. I try to create spaces that in some way make it better for us to address these issues and where we can create together, learn together, and work together.

How can art be used as a part of ones healing process?

“How can art not be used as therapy?” is where I come from as a visual artist.

You can come to the arts in any way or form, without a goal, just creating and making. I often find myself with my sketchbook while watching a movie or sitting in the park. I’m not developing a body of work or thinking too much about it… It’s just creating something. It doesn’t have to be seen by anyone or be perfect.

And, you can take The Truth & Dare Project workshops that are posted through the projects Facebook or Instagram pages)!

Zahra’s co-panelists were:
Hafsa Khizer, Award-Winning Toronto Based Digital/Visual Artist, Photographer, & Founder of The Reminder Series Islamic Art Shop
Noor Al-Mosawi, Toronto-based Visual Artist & Photographer
Ifrah Akram, Toronto-based Visual Artist & Safety Practitioner

A photograph of women. 7 standing at the back and 6 sitting on a sofa in the middle ground, there is a coffee table with a plant on it in the foreground. The backdrop is a whitewashed brick wall with windows and hanging plants.
The artists with the Nisa Homes staff and volunteers

Nisa Homes provides shelter to women experiencing domestic violence, poverty, homelessness or seeking asylum. Please support this crucial work by visiting https://www.nisahomes.com/ and making a donation if you are able.

The Truth & Dare Project provides free photography and mixed-media workshops, self-care retreats, pop-up shows, and (mus)interpreted, an annual visual art exhibit, for young Muslim women in the GTA. We offer safe spaces for participants to: collaborate with others who have faced similar adversities, learn individually and collectively, and explore the visual arts as a creative outlet to explore and share their stories. Please reach out to work with The Truth & Dare Project to bring programming to your local communities or if you would like to become a sponsor of the project programs.