aAt the beginning of a new year, I am taking some time to breathe. I am between projects and the semester has not yet begun. It is snowing outside. So I am starting to work my way through a reading list on peacemaking with some social justice advocacy on the side. Some I've already read, but I'm excited to learn more about the theological foundations for the practices and principles that guide my community building and interfaith dialogue efforts. What's more, I have plans in the works to engage in these topics with a small group of Christian and Muslim women. We've named ourselves Sustain: Nourishing bodies and spirits through food and faith. Who's excited and has two thumbs? This girl.
I've also been working on two watercolors that I started several months ago. Now that Qorsho and I have submitted our forthcoming book, Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah / A Community in Between, with Trillium Press (shameless plug) and are waiting on copyedits, and I haven't yet begun building the project website, or any plans for the exhibition, I decompressed a little by painting Global Mall. I've been attempting to make something visual that encompasses my relationship with that space since 2011 (see below, Global Mall throughout the ages of my research), and have countless abandoned pieces. But, as Jonah reminded me as we sat down to paint together, "Mommy, you are an artist. You paint pictures." Significant partly because I rarely paint these days, and also because it was a nice reminder that I understood myself first as an artist, then as an educator, and then as a researcher. These roles frequently shift, and at this point are so intertwined that to think of not doing one element in favor of another is fairly incomprehensible. But, I've learned that to do one, for me, is to do them all, which is why, I suppose, I love arts-based community research so much.
There is much I am looking forward to this year:
Urur Dhex-Dhexad Ah/Community in Between
It is not a direct translation, and that is significant. Qorsho and I met for coffee last year during one of my trips to Columbus and got to talking about identity and representation issues. She mentioned an idea she'd been thinking about to showcase the ways that young Somalis were contributing to their communities, and I immediately jumped on board. I contacted a good friend at Dublin Arts Council about the idea, and they offered us a slot in their exhibition schedule and agreed to sponsor the development of this project.
Since this initial conversation, we've focused our inquiry on community-building among young Somalis in the diaspora, with aims to offer a counternarrative to the ways the Somali community is often represented, offer a series of role models for Somali youth through the development of posters to be hung in social service agencies and schools, further investigate diaspora community-building processes and identity negotiation among 1.5-2nd generation Somali Americans, and contribute to local conversations regarding race, religion, immigration, integration/participation, and representation. Our project includes a photonarrative exhibit featuring photographs taken by three high school female Somali photographers, each participants' story, and artifacts from each participant. We were able to offer a photography scholarship for the three girls, which included a camera and a three-day workshop with Toronto-based artist Riya Jama. More on that in a future post. It also includes a poster series exploring attributes of individual attributes that help build strong communities. A website is to come.
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Ruth M. Smith
Community arts educator and researcher. Drinking coffee. Home educating. Making art. Listening intentionally.