By Darla Shelden
The state of Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state in the nation. The majority of them are imprisoned for non-violent or drug-related offenses.
In the book, Invisible Eve, award-winning photographer and writer Yousef Khanfar goes behind prison walls to capture the essence of women who he believes are “cast away and forgotten.”
The opening reception of Invisible Eve will be held on Thursday, May 30, from 5 – 8 p.m., in the Tulsa World Gallery at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum, 1400 Classen Dr., in Oklahoma City.
For more than three and a half years, Khanfar photographed women incarcerated in Oklahoma for nonviolent crimes.
The Invisible Eve exhibit features black and white portraits of these women, which will be displayed alongside their personal messages.
“After I took the portrait of each female, I asked them to write words of wisdom to the next generation,” said Khanfar. “Their messages are insightful, some powerful and some painful.”
The George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), the book’s sponsor, supports a number of programs focused on reducing the rate of female incarceration and improving Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.
“In the book you will see an aunt and niece in the same facility,” said Khanfar. “They both cried when I took their photos. You will also see that some of them have life sentences, for non-violent crimes.”
After investigating the impact on children and families, GKFF has identified the problem as a significant area of concern related to its mission of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
“We are not advocating crime should go without punishment,” said Khanfar. “We are advocating they need rehabilitation and a lesser degree of punishment for women.”
While working on the project, Khanfar understood he might not be able to help the women inside prison, but he believed their voices might help women on the outside.
“I was impressed by their love to save young souls on the outside, rather than loving to be saved from the inside,” Khanfar added. “All they want is somebody to give them a voice, so they can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
“Their desire, as much as mine, is that people find wisdom within their messages, where the fault of one being might be the salvation of another.”
Of Palestinian origin, Khanfar was born and raised in Kuwait, where he grew up exposed to images of war and violence. Photography has become his voice to express his feelings about that experience.
In 2003, RotoVision, a British design and photography publication named Khanfar one of the world’s top photographers. His book, In Search of Peace, was named the 2007 Independent Publisher’s Outstanding Book of the Year.
Also in 2007, he was selected by Mont Blanc and UNICEF as Artist of the Year to work with the United Nations in their effort to promote literacy around the world.
Khanfar’s art has been collected and exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. His work is included in the permanent collection of the International Photography Hall of Fame.
“As an artist, I can show people where to look, but I can not tell them what to see,” said Khanfar. “It seems all the dreadful things about the prison system are coming to the surface.
“I just want to take everybody back to basics and remind them that women are still the center of the family, nation and civilization.”
This exhibit was made possible by the Dr. Ranivah Ramadan Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes higher education and research in the health sciences.
“My great hope is, as a nation and people, that we can stand proud one day and say, we are number one in respecting women and lead the world,” Khanfar said.
The public is invited to the opening reception, which will include an artist talk and book signing.
Admission is free for members and $5 for non-members. Space is limited. RSVP to Marissa Boswell at 405-523-3231 or [email protected]
To learn more about the Invisible Eve project, visit www.invisibleeve.com.
“Invisible Eve” exhibit goes behind bars in Oklahoma to reveal women all but forgotten
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