A camera is more than a tool of art for Yousef Khanfar.
The award-winning and Palestinian-American writer, photographer and humanitarian illustrates life, the way he sees it, by capturing it through a lens and a pen.
Khanfar will lead a panel discussion at East Central University’s Louise Young Diversity Lecture on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. in the Ataloa Theatre of the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center.
In addition, the Lockmiller Lecture in Art History will be sponsoring Khanfar’s “Invisible Eve” photography exhibit on campus in the Pogue Art Gallery from Sept. 30-Nov. 18 with a special preview and book signing on Sept. 29 for those who attend the lecture.
“Invisible Eve” is the latest in Khanfar’s work as he went behind women’s prison walls in Oklahoma to not only photograph non-violent female prisoners, but to let them express themselves through their writings.
“Their voices are insightful, some powerful and some painful,” said Khanfar. “My goal is that people might find wisdom within their words, where the fault of one might be the salvation of another.”
Khanfar’s desire for the project was sparked by Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate.
“While working on the “Invisible Eve” project and after I would photograph a few of the ladies, we would sit down and each one would write her words of inspiration for the next generation,” Khanfar said. “During that time, I noticed something profound happened…something beautiful happened. They all were writing intently but for a brief time, they forgot about themselves. They forgot they were in jail. Their only focus was on how to help young girls and boys outside not to end up inside the prison system.”
Through the writings, they challenged themselves with words, passages and meanings. They wanted to make a difference and they wanted to matter, according to Khanfar, who says he received full support from the correctional system.
“All of the ladies in the book were happy to join the project. They all felt good about themselves, because for the first time, they felt they are part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Khanfar. “They felt empowered that somebody was giving them a voice. All they needed is a voice that belonged to them.”
According to Khanfar, his intentions for the project and book were to bring awareness to female incarceration and alternative solutions. He also wanted to show the beauty of these ladies in prison as he didn’t view them as inmates, but human beings.
“Regarding non-violent crimes, some ladies deserve a second chance, where rehabilitation is a better long-term solution than prisons to create new productive citizens,” Khanfar said.
Khanfar says inspiration for his work comes from the heart and those who are unnoticed.
“I am attracted to the low frequency voices that have little or no representations,” said Khanfar. “I believe artists, since we have a platform, have the responsibility to capture the unfortunate voices and bring them up for the masses to see. We need to create an environment where people can have an honest and open discourse about the subject at hand. It is my hope that we as people and a nation can stand up proud one day and say, ‘we are No. 1 in respecting women and lead the world.”
Yousef’s first book, “Voices of Light,” was published in 2000. It featured a collection of his poetic musings and fine art landscape photographs throughout the world. The images in this book embody the touchable and untouchable, secretive and evident mysteries of nature.
In 2003, he was selected and listed as one of the world’s top photographers in landscapes by RotoVision publication in London among only 38 other major photographers.
His second book, the award-winning “In Search of Peace,” was published in 2006 as an original body of work designed as a visual symphony entitled sublime, freedom and divine. In this book, Khanfar’s desire was to provoke the readers and lead them into dialogue and awareness of humanity and themselves.
In 2007, “In Search of Peace,” was the winner of the 2007 IP Outstanding Book of the Year in the Most Life-Changing category. He was also selected as artist of the year by Mont Blanc to help with UNICEF, United Nations, to promote literacy around the world. In 2009, the Fullbright Center for Peace, in Washington D.C., selected “In Search of Peace” as the book of choice to be gifted in the Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations to the top peaceful nations of the world.
Of Palestine origin, Yousef was born and raised in Kuwait, where he grew up exposed to images of war and violence. In expressing his inner turbulence, photography gave him that voice.
“While growing up seeing images of war and violence, I have chosen my camera and pen instead of a gun, to tell my story and express myself. For I believe they are my weapon in which I chisel all the colossal pain through images and message,” Khanfar said. “I always believe that peace is a finer horse to ride than violence.”
The lecture is sponsored by Young, who is a graduate of Ada Public Schools and East Central University (B.A. in geography in 1969). She earned a master’s and doctorate from the University of Colorado. From 1971 to 1974, Young was an instructor of geography at ECU. In 2008, Young established an endowed lectureship within the ECU Foundation with the goal of presenting an annual free lecture for students, faculty and community members on various aspects of diversity.
Young retired as senior software engineer with Raytheon Company, where she worked for 34 years. In addition to her software engineering career, she has received numerous awards for her work in diversity, both inside and outside of corporate America, especially with regards to equal treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. In 2003, she received the prestigious Raytheon Diversity Heroes Award from Raytheon CEO, Bill Swanson.
The “Invisible Eve” book was sponsored by Women in Recovery, an alternative to incarceration program sponsored by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to the improvement of family life.
The “Invisible Eve” travel exhibit is sponsored by the Dr. Raniyah Ramadan Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to promoting higher education in the arts and science.