‘I Am Somali’ at Mia; Steve Sack at Talk of the Stacks

To create Mia’s first-ever exhibition of work by contemporary Somali artists, curator Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers didn’t have to look far; Minneapolis has the largest Somali population of any city in the U.S. “I Am Somali: Three Visual Artists from the Twin Cities” opens Saturday and spans three generations.

For Ifra Mansour, a multidisciplinary artist in her 30s, this won’t be her first show at the corner of 24th and 3rd Ave. S.; her one-woman play “How to Have Fun in a Civil War” was featured at the Children’s Theatre in 2016. Mansour’s “Can I Touch It” is a multimedia installation of film, audio, fabric and willow branches.

Aziz Osman is in his 60s; he arrived in Minnesota in 1991, part of the first wave of Somalis to resettle here. His work is figural and semi-abstract. Hassan Nor is in his 80s; he resettled in the U.S. in 2002. His drawings depict narratives of daily life before the Somali Civil War and scenes of exile and migration.

Grootaers commented in a statement that “their work counters the widely held idea that art by Muslims is non-figural,” and that the artists “examine identity in a personal, vulnerable way, which is recognizable across cultures and religions.”

The three artists’ work will be displayed alongside traditional objects borrowed from the Somali Museum of Minnesota that illustrate daily life in Somalia, including milk containers, a pair of sandals, a camel bell and a Qur’an stand.

On Oct. 26, Mansour, Osman and Nor will take part in a panel discussion at Mia about art-making in Somali society and being an immigrant in the United States, among other topics. The talk will be moderated by U of M sociologist Cawo Awa Abdi and Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, author of “Somalis in Minnesota.”