The history of the Somali people is a portrait of courage, adaptation and grace. Nomadic by nature, the Somalis moved according to the needs of their community. European colonization, Kenyan and Ethiopian rule divided the country in the mid 1800s, forcing clans to adapt again to new divisions. In 1960, the Italian and British areas were united into an independent nation, and became an anti-colonial, pro-soviet, civilian government. In 1969, General Mohammed Siad Barre led a take over, and although popular at first, Barre became increasingly oppressive and autocratic. By 1988, full scale civil war broke out, leading to Barre's exile in 1991. Since then the Somali people have been at war amongst themselves. Lack of government, religious extremists and violent clan disputes make living in Somalia virtually impossible. Continuous warfare has brought the country to collapse. An estimated 400,00 Somalis have died. Currently they are experiencing the worst drought in 10 years. Mass starvation, rape, and torture is commonplace. Education is for the privileged, if available at all.
Once again the Somali people are on the move. Since 1991, 1.4 million people have been displaced from Somalia, and 500,00 more have fled to countries within the region. The UNHCR and the United States aid in the relocation of refugees and bring humanitarian relief. Through the Clinton Administration, the US allows for 70,000 refugees to enter the country per year. Seattle alone has 30,00 Somali refugees. This community is primarily located in the Rainier Valley and Central District where many organizations reach out to families. I have lived in Seattle for 20 years and have watched this community grow with love and friendship. It is here as an artist, I have chosen to depict the bravery and beauty of this culture.
In This series, body language through flowing fabric, flashes of eyes and smiles, and colors that awaken the senses, bring me to the canvas. There is something taboo about watching a person cross the street, though with the beauty of the burka, it is difficult not to be drawn in. It is not the religious laws, not the suffering of a culture, or the displacement of a group of people I see. It's grace, courage and beauty of human beings. So I watch. Then I wonder if I could have their strength and dignity. This series is about the intersection of transition, movement and beauty. Crosswalks take on new meanings. Fabric becomes mysterious and revealing, showing attitude and hidden sensuality. Through this series I hope to bring awareness of a community of people that finally have a place to call home.