Walker Art Center event celebrates Somali culture with art, storytelling

The event offered a lesson in Somali art.

Artist and teacher Ifrah Mansour looks at a miniature Aqal, a traditional nomadic Somali hut, she created an exhibit she  hosted at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, Dec 7. A Somali refugee herself, Mansour aims to create art that promotes social justice.

Parker Johnson

Artist and teacher Ifrah Mansour looks at a miniature Aqal, a traditional nomadic Somali hut, she created an exhibit she hosted at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, Dec 7. A Somali refugee herself, Mansour aims to create art that promotes social justice.

Norah Kleven

On Saturday at the Walker Art Center, parents, children and patrons created their own artwork in celebration of Somali culture. 

Every month since 1991, the Walker Art Center hosts “Free First Saturdays” events. This December’s theme celebrated and educated attendees on Somali culture. 

The Walker partnered with the Somali Museum of Minnesota, a community organization with a history of collaborating with the Walker, to curate the event. In addition to art projects, the Somali Museum of Minnesota provided a traveling exhibit for the day. The museum’s founder and top executive, Osman Ali, read stories to children who attended the event. 

The Walker also relied on local talent to make the event an interactive one. Ifrah Mansour is a Twin Cities-based artist invited by the Walker to bring her expertise in multimedia arts to the event. Mansour came to the United States as a Somali refugee more than 20 years ago. Today, she works as a teacher and multimedia artist in the Twin Cities.  

On Saturday, she led parents and their children in creating miniature aqals —  nomadic Somali huts. 

“The aqal encapsulates everything that I love — conscious art, people doing engaging creative things, people using their hands [and] people not using technology,” Mansour said. 

“I feel like it just employs all the things that I absolutely love about doing [art].” 

The aqals, she said, are meant to be symbolic of people creating space and a home for others. Before starting to build their aqals, Mansour asked participants to identify their intention for the art project and who or what the space was meant for. 

“It’s my new favorite thing in the whole wide world,” she said. 

Mansour aims to create art that promotes social justice, saying her work largely speaks for and celebrates unheard voices and oppressed communities.

She noted the subject of this month’s event is important because the number of displaced people across the world continues to grow due to environmental issues and war. 

Maggie Catambay studies at the University of Minnesota. She often volunteers at “First Free Saturdays” events. 

“I think it’s really important for kids to get together with their families because we have so many working parents,” Catambay said. 

Sarah Lampen, the Walker’s Family Programs Associate, said the Walker chose to partner with the Somali Museum of Minnesota because of its commitment to representing all the communities of the Twin Cities.

“A central part of our mission is to present programming that examines, questions, shapes and inspires us as individuals and cultures and communities,” Lampen said. 

“What we’re hoping to do is make the Walker feel welcoming, inclusive and really reflective of all families in the Twin Cities.”