Somali immigrants began making their way into Minnesota in the 1990s, bringing with them centuries-old East African traditions and culture. As they have become part of Minnesota’s melting pot, it’s not surprising that interest in those traditions and culture has risen. Today it’s become easier to learn about the Somali heritage through various outlets.
One excellent source is the Somali Museum of Minnesota, founded in 2009 by Osman Ali. Ali made it his mission to collect Somali artifacts that used to be archived in a cultural history museum in Mogadishu, but that museum was destroyed during years of war, and the artifacts scattered across the world.
The Somali Museum of Minnesota is located on Lake Street in Minneapolis and is open to the public four days a week. In the museum, visitors will find both carefully handcrafted items, like the beautifully carved spoons above, that were used in daily life, as well as paintings and sculptures created by Somali artists reflecting both life in Somalia and life as a Somali in Minnesota.
Much of the collection is owned by Ali, but there are pieces that have been donated by other Somalians across the world.
Out in Chaska, a complementary exhibit is now on display through April 22.
Then and Now: Somali Stories through Art is at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Reedy Gallery.
This exhibit is a collection of artworks in various media by three Somali artists. It also includes the “hand banner” above, which was the result of a class taught by artist Solveig Anderson with Hands Across the World, a St. Cloud-based nonprofit. The class was designed to teach new immigrants valuable skills such as sewing and how to use a sewing machine. The students then created this banner.
The exhibit includes paintings, photographs, and these beautiful mosaics.
It also includes this piece: a floating refugee aqal. This is inspired by a traditional Somali house, which would normally be built on the ground for stability. The floating aqal represents the instability of the refugee life and how refugees often feel that they’re not grounded in any way.
Visitors are invited to crawl into the aqal and rest on their backs while watching a video about refugees.
There are more exhibits to come. In June, the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul will open Somalis + Minnesota, an exhibit documenting Somali culture and history, and Somali lives in Minnesota.
What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Tuesday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.