Yousef Khanfar and Invisible Eve

Yousef Khanfar is a noted author and photographer. In his latest project, Invisible Eve, he turns his lens on incarcerated Oklahoma women, presenting their images and words in an effort to reach empathy and understanding. Here is Yousef’s artist statement for the project, which we reprint with permission:


The faces and voices I have captured from the penitentiaries for my project, Invisible Eve, were a challenge indeed; perhaps my lenses have never labored so much on a subject more utterly restricted.

Since United States has the highest incarceration of women per capita in the world, I decided to take on this project, not to condemn, but to serve as bridges of understanding.  

Within the prison system’s harsh reality, and beneath the overarching legality, inmates build their own governments. They compete among themselves with jealousies and forces, where they hold trials, pass judgments, corrupt the young, and live by the code. They are cast away in barren cells, banished to their own Serengeti, where starvation meets brutality, where crushing bones is the norm, and laughter of the hyena reverberates in every heart.

While creating Invisible Eve, I came to the understanding that I might not be able to help the women inside prison, but their images and messages might help the women outside prison. After taking their portrait, I asked each woman to write a few words of wisdom for the next generation. Their messages are insightful, some powerful and some painful. My aspiration is that people can find wisdom within their words, where the fault of one being might be the salvation of another.

Then I witnessed something magical. For a while the females forgot about their unfortunate situation. They entered into a realm, where they love to save souls, than love to be saved. By giving them a voice, they felt good about themselves. They transcended their own tragedy. They felt they are part of the solution than part of the problem.

All the ladies I photographed were united by misfortune of circumstances and non-violent crimes. I refused to see them as inmates and I only saw them as human beings. I refused to digitally manipulate their images. The women were asked to remain natural and not wear make-up. I used only natural light in the shadows. I photographed most of them against a white, seamless paper, eliminating all distractions in the background. I wanted them to leap out of whiteness and greet viewers with their eyes. Some were photographed with their children who, with their guardians, pay the ultimate price. Others were photographed between two walls, a metaphor of being trapped.

While listening to the stories of these women in prison, it seems to me they were once young budding flowers about to blossom, but somehow they were swept away by gales of temptation, washed away by currents of crime, and carried down into an artificial ocean, where the glamorous life is religion, material things are worshiped, drugs are available everywhere, violence is endorsed on every screen, crime is embroidered with romance, and the noble flesh of Eve is offered for sale. And one must ask: Whom do you blame, these souls or society?

My great hope is, that we as a nation and people can stand proud one day and say, we are number one in respecting women and lead the world. This is the hope of my soul, for the living and the unborn, and when we reach that summit, I shall weep no more.

Invisible Eve is on exhibition at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City through September 7, 2013. Copies of the collection’s book can be found at the project’s website.



Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

4 thoughts on “Yousef Khanfar and Invisible Eve

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, and especially getting permission to share so much of the author’s purpose in creating this collection. I learned about this project today from Cheri Fuller, who heads the nonprofit Redeeming the Family in OKC. Several of the women depicted in these photographs created video messages, reading to their children, as part of RDF’s Oklahoma Messages Project. Cheri said many people are very resistant to donating or helping organizations which serve incarcerated people. Even groups like Redeeming the Family, which are focused on outreach to the innocent children of incarcerated parents, have a great deal of difficulty raising funds. Our cycle of poverty, crime & incarceration in Oklahoma presents challenges which some consider hopeless, but we must find ways to address these issues together. Hopefully the “Invisible Eve” project will not only raise awareness but also inspire more Oklahomans to get involved helping address the challenges of poverty and incarceration.

  2. I just wanted to say thank you to Yousef, for letting me part of such a moving book. Now that I’m released and see the book being published, it makes me smile. Thank you, and I hope everybody who reads it understands what it is that Yousef was and is trying to show the world.

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