Adam Zivo couldn’t sit idly by when U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to block migration from seven Muslim-majority countries in late January.
The executive order, which would have halted migration for 90 days and suspended the refugee program for 120 days, was ultimately blocked by the courts. But the Yonge Street and Davisville Avenue-based photographer sprang into action as soon as news broke, creating the They’re People, Not Terrorists social media campaign featuring people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Metroland Media Toronto caught up with the 24-year-old to learn more about the campaign before he moved to Mumbai for work.
Q: Tell me about why you decided to create this campaign.
A: I decided to create this campaign after I saw a Facebook post by a friend of mine who was studying in the States. This was right after the ban was announced, and he was concerned whether finishing his degree would mean being functionally imprisoned in America, since there was no guarantee at the time that he'd be readmitted into the country if he went back home during the summer or other holiday breaks. It made me realize how far reaching the ban was, and the implications it could have on Canadians. The campaign was initially meant to address that specific angle, the reason for which was because it would make my Canadian nationality an asset rather than a liability. As the ban was clarified and Canadians were exempted from it, I revised the project to have a broader scope. I figured it would be better to do something rather than nothing.
Q: What are you hoping to achieve?
A: Roughly speaking, there are three goals for this project. The first is to give people another way to show their opposition to the ban through social media. The importance of that is that people are more inclined toward more concrete forms of activism if they perceive popular support for their cause, and whether or not that support exists is often gauged on social media. The second goal is to help combat prejudices against people from these nationalities. Though social media tends to act as an echo chamber, the hope is that these images might reach some Islamophobes and challenge their ideas of what it means to be a Muslim by presenting them in all their normalcy. The third goal is to place these images out there for public use as a ready-made campaign for organizations that have a need for something like it but, due to budgetary constraints or bureaucratic inertia, might not be able to produce something similar.
Q: Have you personally experienced discrimination?
A: I'm gay, but I've been largely insulated from homophobia since I'm fairly masculine and most people don't catch on to my sexuality when I meet them. However, when I was younger I had the displeasure of having some people joke about killing me, as well as a hate group once made on Facebook. Thankfully the parts of Toronto that I grew up in and live in now are generally safe for people like me. There are neighbourhoods that I wouldn't hold a guy's hand in, though.
Q: You also created a social media campaign following the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre. Why?
A: The #LOVEISLOVEISLOVE campaign was something that I did because I felt that it would be the best way to utilize my professional skills to contribute to community catharsis. The massacre demonstrated the precariousness of LGBTQ+ safety, even in areas where gay rights are generally accepted. I have a history of running projects that focus on diversity and inclusion, so it seemed natural to run something like #LOVEISLOVEISLOVE. It was a fortuitous mix of good intentions and pragmatism.
Q: Do you consider yourself politically active?
A: I consider myself politically active, but with reservations. I think that political engagement should be informed by a deep knowledge of the issues at hand, and I don't think that my background as an artist really gives me that. I try to keep my projects limited to advocating for a general set of values rather than commenting on specific policies. This makes this refugee project an outlier, since it comments on policy as much as values, but in this particular case I think that the policy was egregious enough to warrant a response.
Q: Do you consider They’re People, Not Terrorists a political campaign?
A: I would consider this project to be a political campaign. Its explicit purpose is to respond to a government policy.
Q: Tell me about your move to Mumbai.
A: I usually freelance, though I've just been hired by a new agency in Mumbai and will be acting as their lead photographer there.