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First Somali-American art show at Minneapolis Institute of Art spans three generations

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Artist Ifrah Mansour was crouched on the floor of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, arranging an enormous headscarf. For days she had been working on her video/installation “Can I Touch It,” a reference to the annoying phrase that people utter after they have already violated someone by touching their pregnant belly, head scarf, tattoo or hair, in Mansour’s case.

Yards long, the red, gold and yellow-striped scarf narrates the piece both physically and metaphorically. It begins on the floor, encircling a video screen that shows Mansour wrapping her head with the scarf. Then it twists around the torso and head of a mannequin before curling across the floor and onto a gallery wall, partly obscuring a monitor that displays a giant eye.

It was hard to tell where the piece begins and where it ends, which was exactly the point.

Mansour is the youngest of three Somali-American artists who make up the cross-generational show “I Am Somali,” the Minneapolis museum’s first exhibition of contemporary Somalian art. Organized by Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, the museum’s curator of African art, “I Am Somali” draws its title from a poem of that name by Abdulkadir Hersi Siyad (1945-2005).

While Mansour uses performance, video and installation, the work of more mature artists Hassan Nor and Aziz Osman is two-dimensional — Nor displays eight drawings on poster board, while Osman is represented by five paintings.

The exhibition came together as disparately as the work included in it, yet it all speaks to the Somali diaspora and their cross-cultural experiences as refugees.

Nor is a self-taught artist now in his 80s who began drawing nearly 60 years ago back in Jubaland, the region in southern Somalia where he grew up. He came to Minneapolis in 2002; none of his work survived the trip but he continued to draw. Grootaers first came across his work last summer at the Third Place Gallery, a space run by photographer Wing Young Huie, where Nor had his first indoor gallery exhibition. Nor draws from memory; many of his works depict traditional life in Somalia and the countryside, where people are hanging out, drinking tea, amid camels and other livestock.

The show also includes traditional objects from daily life in Somalia — milk containers, a pair of sandals, a camel bell, a Qur’an stand — displayed in the middle of the gallery. “I wanted to show a few of these objects that would otherwise be lost in these drawings,” said Grootaers, who collaborated with the Somali Museum of Minnesota on the display.

On the wall across from Nor’s work, viewers will come across Osman’s lush paintings, such as “Jandheer Dance,” a traditional group dance, and “Moving,” where two people walk with very large camels and a small herd of white goats. In more abstract pieces such as “Exodus I” and “Exodus 2,” we see a layering of multicolored and various shapes all packed in together, going somewhere — a reference to leaving Somalia.

Osman, who is in his 60s, received formal training in Florence, Italy, and had been living in Europe for 15 years or so before he returned to Somalia in 1989, shortly before the civil war broke out. He fled to the United States in 1991 as part of the first wave of refugees.

Osman recently showed his paintings in “Receptacle,” a group exhibition of Somali artists organized by the Twin Cities collective Soomaal House of Art. But Grootaers first came across Osman in 2011, while preparing the reinstallation of the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s African galleries.

“We organized a number of what we called ‘open dialogue’ evenings — for teachers, youth and community members — where we got input from people from Africa. Aziz was among those attendees. I didn’t connect with him then to show his art — he did speak about the museum and what role the museum would play in showing local art.” Not long after that, he came across Osman’s work at the Somali Museum of Minnesota.

The distinctive use of various media is important in this show. While museumgoers can see Somali culture and heritage represented in the work of Osman and Nor, Mansour literally invites the viewer into her more visceral, cross-cultural experiences.

She describes “Can I Touch It” as being about “the story of privacy. It’s this simple act of the world engaging you, to get to know you a little bit more — but that engagement being one that is ‘What is it?’ which often isn’t healthy.”

Her work forces the viewer to share the space that Mansour inhabits, rather than allowing them just to look. As with the scarf, the piece envelops the viewer.

“I want the viewer to be in it,” she said, “because it takes two to make the act.”

The hope is that by putting this exhibition in a prominent public institution, both Somali and non-Somali visitors will get a chance to learn and engage. It’s also exciting for Somali visitors to see their own culture represented in an encyclopedic museum, and in a show that reflects a female artist, too.

“There was a herd of Somali people that were here the other day and they poked their eye in because there is a sexy camel out there,” said Mansour. “So it will be really good for them to see a feminine corner, as well.”

Arts & Culture

Aar Maanta & Minneapolis’s Cedar Cultural Center Win $50,000 Joyce Awards

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Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and the Cedar Cultural Center

Win $50,000 Joyce Awards

Grants Awarded by the Joyce Foundation Will Support New Works Focusing on Diverse Cultures by Musician Aar Maanta and Performer Rosy Simas

CHICAGO, Jan. 17, 2018 —  The Joyce Foundation announced today that two art collaborations – the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and Rosy Simas Danse, as well as the Cedar Cultural Center and Aar Maanta – have each been awarded a 2018 Joyce Award to activate their respective community engagement artworks in the Twin Cities.

The Cedar Cultural Center will partner with Somali musician, Aar Maanta, to produce what is believed to be the first bilingual album of children’s songs tentatively entitled,Children’s Songs from the Somali Diaspora.

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts will commission Rosy Simas (Seneca, Heron Clan) to create “Weave,” an intersectional Native dance project that examines the interwoven and interdependent nature of our world.

The 2018 Joyce Awards marks the Joyce Foundation’s 15th year offering the prize. Started in 2003, the Joyce Awards is the only regional program dedicated to supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities with the goal of elevating their visibility and recognition in their craft. A distinctive feature of the Joyce Awards is the call for commissioned artists and their host institutions to include a robust community engagement plan as a main component of their projects. Maanta and Simas will engage in community forums, workshops, panel discussions, and one-on-one conversations to create their productions.

“These new works will provide storytelling in fascinating mediums for those young and old,” said Ellen Alberding, President of the Joyce Foundation. “It is so important to support these Twin Cities artists and organizations so they can bring to life the diverse stories of the communities their work highlights.”

The competition has awarded nearly $3.25 million to commission 59 new works and collaborations between artists and cultural organizations in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul. The $50,000 award is used towards supporting an artist in the creation and production of a new work and providing the commissioning organization with the resources needed to engage potential audiences, new partners, and their surrounding communities at large.

Minnesota has seen the most Joyce Awards winners with 20 of the 59 total awards to date, delivering $1 million in artistic funding.

“The Twin Cities consistently bring forward impressive projects that position artists as community illuminators and problem solvers,” said Tracie D. Hall, Culture Program Director at the Joyce Foundation. “We are not only excited for the work that Aar Maanta and Rosy Simas will produce but also for the impact these projects have the potential to leave behind.”

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts & Rosy Simas Danse

Rosy Simas is a designer and director of dance, a solo and collaborative performer, and a multidisciplinary teacher, curator and mentor of diverse artists.  A Native feminist, Simas critically centers Native cultural/political persistence while engaging a range of political, social, cultural and personal subjects.

In “Weave,” individual histories will be woven into a performance that envelops the audience in an immersive experience of story, dance, moving image, and sound.  It will be presented in January 2019 as part of the Ordway’s Music & Movement Series.

“Receiving the Joyce Award not only makes possible the Ordway’s commission of ‘Weave,’ but will also support engagements that draw people deeply into both Rosy’s creative process, and the artwork that she and her collaborators create,” said Jamie Grant, President & CEO of the Ordway. “We couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the project, and we are very grateful to the Joyce Foundation.”

“My work furthers an ancestral model of dialogic, peaceful and cross-community-centered direction in my creative process,” said performer Rosy Simas. “Weave will begin in, and return to, community as a way of giving back and remaining engaged with Native people.”

“Weave” collaborating organizations include the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine’s University.

The Cedar Cultural Center & Aar Maanta

Aar Maanta is a Somali musician whose activism, work and creativity led him to become a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Council (UNHCR), while leading one of the only active live bands in the world that plays Somali music. His work includes the recent UNHCR campaign about irregular youth migration in the Horn of Africa, Dangerous Crossings, for which his song “Tahriib” was reproduced and performed in collaboration with leading artists from Africa.

Working with his band and other musicians from Minnesota, Aar Maanta will collaborate with Somali youth in Minneapolis’s Cedar Riverside neighborhood to write and record the first-ever bilingual Somali children’s album, which will be released and performed live at the Cedar in 2019.

“This project was inspired by the creativity and passion of the young people I worked with during my previous Cedar residencies, and more recently in refugee camps of Horn of Africa,” said musician Aar Maanta. “I am very excited to get to work more closely with Minneapolis youth and children on this project. It will be a groundbreaking collaboration because it will channel their own experiences into a beautiful album that can speak to young Somalis and children in the United States and throughout the diaspora.”

With millions of young Somalis growing up in diaspora communities around the world, the album aims to provide affirmation and connection to the Somali American youth experience.

“The Cedar has been building a cherished relationship with Aar Maanta for many years,” said Jessica Rau, Program & Artistic Director at the Cedar. “Our past residencies with him have been significant and meaningful for all of the people he has reached through his time in Minneapolis. The Joyce Award will deepen this impact by allowing Aar Maanta to collaborate with youth in our neighborhood to produce a tangible album of new work that will reach people around the world and last for generations to come.”

 

Additional 2018 Award Winners

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit will commission a new theatrical work entitled Salt City by poet and playwright jessica Care moore, reflecting on themes of gentrification and cultural erasure, a much-debated effect of the Motor City’s economic revitalization.

Dancer and choreographer, Onye Ozuzu, will be commissioned by Chicago’s Links Hallfor a production that looks at black migration and the city’s unique connections to Haiti and Louisiana.

To view the Joyce Awards’ 15th Anniversary video, please click here.

For more information on the foundation and the Joyce Awards, please visitwww.JoyceFdn.org.

About The Joyce Foundation

The Joyce Foundation invests in policies, informed by evidence, to improve quality of life, promote safe and healthy communities, and build a just society for the people of the Great Lakes region. The Chicago-based foundation pursues those goals through grants to help prepare the region’s young people to thrive in education, career, and community, and to advance racial equity and economic mobility. The private, nonpartisan foundation centers its grant making in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and seeks opportunities to collaborate on promising policies in other states or at the federal level. It pursues policy and systems reform in five program areas: Education & Economic Mobility, the Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, Democracy, and Culture.  Joyce was established in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean, sole heir to the Joyce family of Clinton, Iowa, which accumulated its wealth in the lumber and related industries. Joyce has budgeted charitable disbursements of $50 million in 2018, on assets of approximately $1 billion. For more information, please visit www.JoyceFdn.org, or follow us on Twitter (@JoyceFdn) or Facebook (/JoyceFdn).

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Arts & Culture

Khadija Abdullahi Daleys, Mother Of Somali Music, Dies At 82

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One of Somalia’s most legendary singers has died. Khadija Abdullahi Daleys was known as the mother of Somali music, and we have an appreciation.

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Fashion

Storm Management Signs Its First Hijab-Wearing Model, Shahira Yusuf

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Storm Management, the agency which scouted Kate Moss when she was 14, has signed its first hijab-wearing model. Shahira Yusuf is a 20-year-old from London who has broken ground by becoming one of the first hijabi models to be signed to a major agency, following Vogue Arabia cover girl Halima Aden, who joined the IMG family last year. Yusuf joins Storm Management’s wide-ranging roster of models, which also includes Cindy Bruna and Alek Wek. The England-born beauty of Somalian descent, who was scouted at 17 (but didn’t pursue modeling until three years later) admits that although she grew up watching America’s Next Top Model and counts Iman, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek, Liya Kebede, and Lily Cole as inspirations, she was never interested in joining the fashion industry until recently.

Shahira Yusuf photographed by Ronan McKenzie. Courtesy of Storm

“Growing up, being slim and tall, I received the ‘you should model’ comments almost every time I met someone – I’m sure many tall girls can relate,” she tells Vogue Arabia. “I’d say modeling was something I did have an understanding of, in terms of what a model is, but I did not have a passion for the industry nor fashion itself. It kind of just happened for me.”

Despite renowned models like Iman, Yasmin Warsame, and Waris Dirie all hailing from Somalia, modeling is not a traditional career in Yusuf’s culture. Yet she says her friends and family have been super supportive. “I wouldn’t be modeling if it wasn’t for my friends and family constantly asking me to do it. When you have so many of your family, friends, and even strangers approaching you and asking you to consider modeling, it definitely does make you want to pursue it.”

Courtesy of Storm Management

Last November, the Somali beauty went viral on Twitter after posting a series of photographs sporting an oversized gray pantsuit paired with a neatly tied black turban and matching bum bag. “I ain’t [sic] no Kendall Jenner but I’m a black Muslim girl from East London that’s about to finesse the modeling industry,” she captioned it. The pictures garnered more than 57,000 retweets and 122,000 likes. Praise immediately began to pour in from users the world over. “So inspirational. I’m also Somali and from East London, so you’re very inspirational to me,” wrote one user. Another user quipped: “I will do whatever it takes to support you, you’re beautiful Mashallah.”

“I didn’t think the tweet would get that much attention,” Yusuf says. “Especially for it to be reposted so many times and get as much attention on other social media platforms like Instagram, too. I’ve received so much support and I’m glad I tweeted that because it’s very difficult to stand out in such a competitive industry.” Indeed, although the fashion industry has taken major steps to become more inclusive, the number of visibly Muslim models is limited. But Shahira is hopeful. “I do believe that it’s harder to make it as a hijab-wearing model as you have already filtered so many forms of modeling out. So for one, you have fewer opportunities. This is why I feel that it’s up to the fashion industry to create more opportunities for models like me. There is a huge modest fashion market, and more companies are starting to release modest fashion clothing lines.”

Shahira Yusuf photographed by Ronan McKenzie. Courtesy of Storm

She is excited to represent Muslim womanhood in a way she rarely saw growing up. “I’ve become a model at a time when society is more accepting of people of different ethnicities and religions. It’s about time we had an equal representation and moved on from just the majority. We know that there are aspiring models from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, so there’s really no excuse for the lack of diversity.”

Though she has yet to secure her first big gig, Yusuf recounts doing a spread with Marfa Journal as a career highlight. Her biggest goal? “To be the first hijab-wearing model to land the front cover of British Vogue. That would be amazing. Another huge goal of mine is to walk the runway for my favorite designer brands, Chanel and Burberry, in the future.” But most important is keeping true to her values. “It’s so easy to get carried away with the extravagant clothes and makeup in modeling, but I want to make sure I remain true to myself. And in that way I can convey myself in the most genuine way. My portfolio is a reflection of who I am and what I stand for. I love modesty, so I want my work to reflect that.”

Whether she wants to or not, Yusuf serves as a beacon of hope for a more inclusive world, one that offers a seat at the table for everyone, and not just those who conform or blend in.

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