Osman Ali is a man with a mission.
The Minneapolis restaurant owner recently gave me a crash course on Somali history and culture, leading me down some creaky steps to a basement decorated with hand-carved wooden bowls and spoons, woven prayer mats and paintings of nomadic goat herders.
It’s here in the basement of the Bright Moon Cafe on Cedar Avenue S. and E. Lake Street where he displays some of the 700 cultural artifacts that he’s been collecting for the past four years.
Now, he’s hoping to establish the Somali Artifact & Culture Museum — the first of its kind outside of Somalia.
To support the project, he’s holding a benefit Friday and Saturday at Lincoln International High School, 2123 Clinton Av. S. in Minneapolis. The event will feature poetry, dance, food and a sneak peak at the collection. Doors open at 3 p.m. and the program begins at 5 p.m.
Ali got the idea for the museum when he returned to his native Somalia in 2009 to visit his ailing father.
He had planned to bring back just a few items for his restaurant and his home. But after talking with his younger relatives in Somalia, he discovered that they did not know much about the traditional nomadic culture and way of life.
Ali also learned that the long-running civil war had taken its toll on the national museum in Somalia, scattering many of its artifacts across the world. “When I came to know that people forgot everything, then I started to collect,” he said. “I started from a very narrow place but it took me to an ocean after that.”
He went on local radio and TV stations in Somalia and announced the museum project.
So far, he has shown his collection at local libraries and schools.
He said he hopes to rent space at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis to house the collection until a permanent site can be found.
Tickets may be reserved with a donation of $25 or more to the museum. To reserve a ticket or make a donation, contact Osman Ali at 612-998-1166.