Parts of the Somali Museum of Minnesota’s exhibits have crisscrossed the state and traveled to six states and Canadian provinces.
Now, some of the museum’s art and traditional nomadic artifacts will make a foray closer to home — as the centerpiece of a two-month celebration of Somali culture at the Hennepin County Government Center.
In recent years, the center’s gallery has made a push to reflect the county’s diverse communities. Teaming up with the Somali Museum and its resident dance troupe was a natural extension of these efforts, says Kirstin Wiegmann of Forecast Public Art, a St. Paul nonprofit that helps arrange exhibits at the gallery.
“Often, the stories showcased in the news do not talk about the richness of culture and the contributions Somali-Americans make in our shared space,” Wiegmann said. “This exhibition, which features utilitarian artifacts — the items we use in our day-to-day lives — allows us to imagine the things that bring us together.”
In recent years, the gallery has had an installation addressing veteran suicide, a display of Russian traditional dress and photos by teens grappling with homelessness and mental illness mentored by Chinese-American photographer Wing Young Huie. Amid a heightened debate about immigration and refugee resettlement, organizers wanted to offer a glimpse into the culture of local Somalis. They reached out to the Minneapolis museum.
Items from its collection have been on display at two Minneapolis libraries, on the University of Minnesota campus and in the Faribault Cultural Center. After a Somali restaurant was firebombed in Grand Forks last year, three vans with museum artifacts and members of its youth dance troupe set off for the North Dakota city.
“We explained to the community there about Somali culture, and that we are a peaceful culture,” said museum founder Osman Ali. “A kind of peace can be created between the communities once they get to know each other.”
The museum has more than 700 items in its collection and fewer than 300 on display. Another 114 artifacts are on their way from Somalia to the United States to be featured in an upcoming exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Meanwhile, says Ali, the museum is receiving a growing number of requests to lend parts of its collection.
“Everyone has heard we have a lot of artifacts and limited space,” he said.
Ali says the chance to team up with Hennepin County for the Government Center event was appealing because the gallery is in a high-traffic area, near where many Somali-Americans live.
The exhibit, sponsored out of the county’s communications budget, will feature paintings by contemporary artist Aziz Osman — a mix of abstract work and pieces depicting life in pre-war Somalia. It includes traditional woven mats, milk and water containers, clothing and shoes, decorative bowls and other items.
The event will feature a Dec. 8 appearance by the museum’s dance ensemble, made up of high school and college students. On Jan. 17, Maslah Jama, a presenter with the county’s Cultural Speakers Bureau, will discuss Somali culture.
The Government Center’s gallery is free and open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.