After producing my book T: A Typology of T-Shirts, from the series known as Not In Your Face which records the messages that people wear on their t-shirts, I began to wonder how the current hate speech concerning Islam in the United States and Europe is being disseminated via the medium of the t-shirt.

The AWEARNESS Project has been created to raise the awareness of how the public is influenced and educated about Islam. The project’s goal is to produce an affirmative message about Islam.

I found over 12,000 offensive messages marketed on a single t-shirt site. Using the search term “Islam/Islamic t-shirts” I was able to find fewer than 1,000 affirmative messages on that same popular site.

To counter this imbalance I have asked Muslims to write messages on t-shirts about who they are, what their faith means to them and what they want the world to know about them. These shirts will provide thoughts on their values, their contributions and their way of life.

The goal of The AWEARNESS Project is to help us understand the diverse self-view of the people who identify with the faith of Islam and in so doing counter the ignorance that gives rise to fear and prejudice.

When I attended the first Women’s March in New York City shortly after the Inauguration I found myself being drawn to the messages on posters being paraded through the streets. They reminded me of the t-shirt messages I have been photographing around the world for the past eight years. But the big difference in many cases is they are not commercially produced. From what I have witnessed these posters come from the heart and many of them are thoughtful reflections of personal responses to the current political climate. I call this project “In Your Face”.

To be able to take a magic marker and express your thoughts is the embodiment of the First Amendment. You see posters representing hard truths, compelling arguments, over-heated rhetoric and profound inner feelings. When you see a young woman carrying a sign that says “Proud Daughter of a Muslim Immigrant” with a matching silk-screened jacket you know she has been touched by the protestors call to action.

Both t-shirts and posters are the embodiment of free speech where the ability to speak your mind is not hindered by fear of reprisal.

This is Freedom of Speech in action.

Text by Susan Barnett