Onder Uluyol, president of the board of directors for IRG, has led the project since it first began in 2010, when IRG received legacy funding from the Historical Society to interview about 41 people that represent a diverse spectrum of the Muslim experience in Minnesota. "The way we looked at it, everybody has a journey they experience," Uluyol says. Reaching out to Muslim people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and countries of origin, the project sought to show the diversity of the Muslim experience here. The show includes voices from immigrants and U.S. citizens, people who have been Muslim their whole lives and those who converted to Islam later in life, as well as other disparate categories of people who fall under the umbrella of Muslims in Minnesota.
After conducting the oral histories, the next phase of the project included placing photographs of all the interviewees along with their stories on a DVD that IRG made available to anyone who was interested. They distributed the DVDs to universities, libraries, and individuals both here and internationally. They also put out a coffee-table book.
From there, IRG created an exhibit, first shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and at the State Capitol for one-day showings. The exhibition at the Walker will be the longest run so far, which runs through August 8.
The exhibit contains photographs and interviews that are displayed on canvasses, organized into different categories. The canvasses show 25 individuals sharing their stories of their journeys, along with background about the project.
On Saturday, the Walker will host a community gathering, held the weekend after the end of Ramadan, to bring the community together. Uluyol says the organization is hoping that both Muslim and non-Muslim people of all backgrounds will come to view the exhibit and interact with the work. The community event will include several of the interviewees speaking as well as other brief remarks by other guests.
One of the goals of the exhibit, Uluyol says, is to show the unique experiences of Muslims in Minnesota, and to shatter some of the misconceptions that people have about Muslim people. By showing a broad range of experience, the project aims to dispel myths and stereotypes about Muslim people.
IRG was formed just two months before 9/11. At the time stereotypes were a problem, but after that incident occurred things obviously became much more prevalent. Uluyol says he hopes the project instills in people the fact that Muslims have been part of the Minnesota community long before the increase in population in the 1990s, with the Bosnian and Somali waves of immigration. "There were phases that came before that. Understanding that history is important in building bridges," he says.