Hand-woven rugs, hand-carved musical instruments, paintings, photography, beaded jewelry, and an array of weapons including spears, knives, and shields are just a few of the many traditional objects and contemporary art pieces on display for the grand opening of the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum. Located in the basement of the Plaza Verde building at the corner of Lake Street and Bloomington, the small museum marks the beginning of Somali entrepreneur Osman Ali's grand vision for preserving Somali and East African heritage.
Ali, owner of Sanaag Coffee and Restaurant as well as Ali Catering, was born in Somalia. He moved around a lot as child and young man, growing up in Yemen from the age of five, then moving to Somalia's capital Mogadishu for a while, and then the United Arab Emirates for 19 years. At the urging of a friend, he applied for a permanent visa to the United States, and moved here with his family in 1995.
In Minnesota, Ali held various jobs before owning his first business, a driving school. Eventually, he opened a catering operation and a restaurant. Through it all, he's been an avid art and music lover, and composes songs and poems.
A number of years ago, Ali began collecting artifacts from Somalia and East Africa, in part because he was worried that the younger generation of Somalis were losing their culture. "I'm scared everything will get lost," he says.
Milk Jar for Milking Camels
He had collected about 300 pieces when, in 2011, he purchase 700 to 800 pieces from another collector. In the same year, Ali formed the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum as a nonprofit. Since then, he's added to the collection and received donations, though not all the works are currently on display as there isn't enough room.
The museum is divided into different sections, with one room showcasing various weaponry and drums, and another highlighting different traditional dress styles. The museum contains a treasure trove of woven traditional jugs and containers, as well as hand-carved objects. Ali says that traditionally women do the weaving and bead work while men tend to carve in wood.
In addition to the traditional crafts, the museum also presents many photographs and paintings, including one by locally based Somali painter Aziz Osman, whose beautiful works often captures memories of his homeland before the Civil War.
For the time being, the museum has a very small staff, but Ali says the response from the community has been wonderful. One such supporter is board member Pamela Gaard, a noteworthy local artist who also has done a lot with the Somali community in her work as a health educator. Ali has got "a lot of ambition," she says.
Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum Grand Opening
3-9 p.m. Saturday, October 19
1516 E. Lake St., Minneapolis