UN Report
2007 DV


November 23, 2005
Contact: Susannah Bielak
[email protected]

After two years photographing the Somali Community in Columbus, Ohio, the Somali Documentary Project—a group intent on documenting the Somali Diaspora—will embark on a critical part of its mission as its members visit and record life in Dadaab refugee camp in north eastern Kenya from November 27 th to December 5 th.

Two years ago, documentary photographer Abdi Roble set about documenting the surviving traditions of the first generation of Somali immigrants in Columbus, Ohio as people adjust to new language and customs, while simultaneously trying to maintain their own. The ensuing series of photographs were the first in what has become an ongoing, expansive initiative, the Somali Documentary Project. The mission of this project is to create an archival record of the Somali Community before it assimilates into the host culture, to educate the host culture about this new community in its midst and to draw international attention to the condition of Somalia and the plight of the Somali people. Abdi is joined in the Somali Documentary Project by writer, Doug Rutledge, photography editor, Stanley Kayne, and project manager, Tariq Mohamed.

With the support of Arts Midwest and the Ohio Arts Council, a series of Roble’s photographs of the Somali Community in Columbus were exhibited this past spring and summer in Columbus at the Ohio Arts Council’s Verne Riffe Center. With the help of Arts Midwest, the show moved to Mapps Coffee and Tea in Minneapolis for the summer and is now touring throughout the Midwest.

The Somali Documentary Project and Arts Midwest are now partnering to enrich and extend the project. Next year, the Somali Documentary Project will photograph the Somali community in Minneapolis and conduct intensive residency work with the help of Arts Midwest and other partners. One such partner is the International Education Center. The International Education Center, the sponsor of the trip, is sponsoring the trip both to further the Somali Documentary Project, as well as to create a professional development program to educate teachers of East African students to better serve refugee families and children. As part of his residency work this coming year Roble, will teach an intensive documentary photography class to students at Ubah Medical Academy, the high school of the International Education Center—integrating the work from the trip to Dadaab.

While in Dadaab, the Somali Documentary Project plans to connect with a family who is about to move to the United States, with the intention being to document a day in the family’s life in Dadaab and later document its adjustment to to the host culture in America.

The Somali Documentary Project believes in capturing the lives of the Somali people with dignity. The project in Columbus has aimed to capture the success story of the Somali people being able to maintain their culture while living out the American dream of opening businesses and controlling their lives. In Kenya, the Project will maintain its goal of documenting the lives of Somalis with dignity. Its goal is to demonstrate how Somali people maintain their culture, beliefs, and positive attitudes in the midst of struggle and hardship.

In fact, some of the children from the Twin City Elementary School spent much of their lives in Dadaab before coming to America. The school is sponsoring the trip, because the children want their stories told. And the Somali Documentary Project has promised to tell that story of courage and endurance in a way that will move the people who see the show and will make the children proud.

We look forward to seeing the show when it appears in Minneapolis next year.

Abdi Roble, Photographer; Abdi was born in Mogadishu, Somalia on February 2, 1964. He has been a freelance photographer for the Columbus Dispatch and the Columbus Post. His photographs have also appeared in the prestigious Leica View magazine. He has started two photography groups: the “African American Photographers of North America” and the “Focus Group.” His exhibitions include “One Month in Europe with Leica,” “Leica Portrait of Cuba” and “ Japan, A Leica Perspective” and most recently at the Riffe Gallery, his show “Cuba Oriente” was very well received. His show, “the Somali Diaspora,” was at the Riffe Gallery in Columbus and at Mapps Coffee Shop in Minneapolis and is now touring the Midwest.

Doug Rutledge, Writer, has a Ph. D. in English from the University of Chicago. He has taught English Language and Literature on the college level for about 20 years. His book, Ceremony and Text in the Renaissance, was published by the University of Delaware press. He has had three plays produced, including, “Run, Run from the Setting of the Sun,” which was performed both in Columbus and New York. He has also published numerous poems and essays. Currently, he is the writer for the Somali Documentary Project.

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. One of six nonprofit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest is dedicated to identifying and examining the Midwest’s distinct cultural visions and styles, and informing audiences of the value of creative express.

In the visual arts, Arts Midwest collaborates with museums and arts centers throughout our region to share resources and expertise. Since 1997, Arts Midwest has co-produced six exhibitions that have traveled to 26 cities in the United States, Europe, and South America.

The Twin Cities International Elementary School (grades k-4) and the Minnesota International Middle School (grades 5-7) opened their doors in the fall of 2001.   Founded by educational leaders in the East African community, the schools strive to provide a quality academic program, in a culturally sensitive setting, for immigrant and refugee children.  The school's program features best-practice English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.  

Two co-directors,  Abdirashid Warsame and Helen Fisk, are the chief administrators at the school.  This shared leadership model allows the school to offer the best possible American academic program in a setting that respects and values community input. 

Source: The Somali Documentary Project, Nov. 23, 2005


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