“The response thus far has been extremely positive,” council spokeswoman Janet Cooper said. “I’m so pleased to see the substantial amount of time that gallery visitors are spending with the portraits and the additional content.”
Sunday September 10, 2017
By Nancy Gilson
Ilhan Dahir (PHOTO: Faduma Hassan)
Among U.S. cities, Columbus is second only to Minneapolis in the number of Somali immigrants.
But how many of us really know our Somali neighbors?
The Dublin Arts Council has taken a step toward introducing 15 extraordinary young men and women from the area who are of Somalian descent.
In “Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between,” the council presents color portraits of the subjects along with first-person video stories, written narratives, photographs, Somali artifacts and maps detailing the immigrants’ worldwide journeys.
The exhibit, which continues through Nov. 3, focuses on integration and represents the first in a series of three. In 2018, a council exhibit will address the subject of immigration and, in 2019, identity.
Organizing the exhibit and creating the 123-page book that documents the project were Qorsho Hassan, an educator and researcher in the Somali community, and Ruth M. Smith, program coordinator of the Online Master’s in Art Education program at Ohio State University.
The color photographs are straight-on portraits of the subjects, who are mostly in their 20s and identified only by first name. Most of the photos were shot by two recent central Ohio high-school graduates, Asia Nuur and Faduma Hasan, who participated in a workshop to learn their skills.
Most of the subjects are first- or second-generation immigrants, and each is remarkable in various ways.
• Nima Dahir, 21, is a graduate of Ohio State University who will be doing economics research at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
• Ilhan Dahir, 23 (sister of Nima), also an Ohio State graduate, is a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England studying refugees, migration, global governance and diplomacy.
• Hoda Hassan, 27, a medical student at the University of Toledo, is specializing in child psychiatry.
• Ahmed Shukri, 21, who moved to the United States when he was 4, became the first Somali deputy sheriff in Franklin County in 2015.
• Ibrahim A. Warsame, 27, attended medical school at the University of Toledo and is now an anesthesiologist.
In their videos and narratives, all 15 discuss the challenges of assimilating into American society, the devotion they feel to the United States as well as Somalia, and the rigorous emphasis their parents put on education.
“My parents decided to move to the United States because they saw this as the place that their kids would have the greatest chance of achieving whatever it was that we could or wanted to achieve,” Ilhan says. “The American dream, or this idea that you can accomplish anything in this country, isn’t really theoretical to them. It’s very practical, and it’s very real.”
Some of the subjects address what life was like in the United States just after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“After 9/11, my mom thought I’d be safer if I just took my head scarf off, at least for a while, because we weren’t sure what was going on at the time,” Hoda says. “That was when I really first experienced questions about everything and not really understanding who I was because I didn’t look like the person I was the day before and I wasn’t wearing a scarf. I think that was the first time I questioned everything.”
Many of the the Somalis featured in the exhibit display maturity beyond their years. The 18-year-old young man known as Chowder the Poet — who, with Isiah (I.C.) Chillous, created a spoken-word video that runs in the room containing the artifacts — talked about education.
“In school, all you get, in my view, is information,” he said. “You don’t really get knowledge. Knowledge is the whole application of that information — understanding where it goes, being wise about certain things and understanding certain scenarios.
“I think a lot of my knowledge, if I have any, comes from my life, my background — and a little bit of it comes from school. Most of it comes from my parents, where I grew up, my environment, America and back home.”
In addition to the portraits, the exhibit includes traditional Somali fabrics and artifacts, including currency, tapestries, a drum and carved utensils.