Self portraits

Self portraits

Saturday, March 4, 2017

New Website --

Please check out my new website still under development -- with new pictures, more drawings, recent paintings, and a few photos. Feedback is appreciated!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Radio Interview -- KFAI

"The Somali Radio that Speaks Funny English" -- (the entire interview is one hour, and a short clip appears, also, at the bottom of the page).
KFAI interview with Abdirizak Bihi about engagement in the arts, health & wellness, and my collaboration with artist Hassan Nor.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Portrait of Olga

Frank (Gaard) and I made simultaneous portraits of Olga; part of our on-going collaboration of ten years ~

Portrait of Olga ~ (l) by Pam, (r) by Frank

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Collaboration with Hassan Nor

This two-minute film shows my friend, Hassan Nor, and I in collaboration. Without an interpreter that day, we just had to wing it.

Two portraits of Ugaaso ~ (l) by Pamela Gaard; (r) by Hassan Nor

Monday, May 23, 2016

Awesome Foundation Grant & "Made Here" Exhibition - Dwelling

Last year, I met an amazing artist, an elderly gentleman named Hassan Nor (goes by Nor), who draws his memories from Jubaland, Somalia, before the war; when life was peaceful, and food plentiful.

The artist's daughter was a catalyst for our meeting. Earlier, she had given some of her father's drawings to her neighbor, whom she met at Neighborhood Night Out. When the neighbor was preparing to travel out of the country for a year, he reached out to me on FB -- where he knew me only through my art.

The neighbor brought some of Nor's drawings over to my studio, and I was blown away by the artworks, which depicted nomadic and village life back home, in Jubaland and Kismaayo, where Nor was a pastoralist, a tailor, a farmer; also, there were drawings of the artist's life here in Minneapolis, where he has lived for 14 years.
Drawing by Nor
Detail of drawing by Nor
Drawing of Wedding, by Nor
After meeting with his daughter, I met with Nor, and since have had several opportunities to chat with him. His daughter, Farhio, interprets for us. I learned that Nor had been drawing his whole life, since age 19 (he's now 76); he is self-taught; he has become interested in showing and selling his art. Since last fall, I have searched for opportunities for him -- written some applications for exhibitions, and reached out to some curators who had helped me in the past, on his behalf. 

As I received some nibbles of interest, I began to understand that some funds would be needed to frame his work, which were primarily works on paper and neon cardboard, and prepare it for exhibition. I did not have the funds to assist with this, and didn't quite know where to turn.

Late in 2015, I heard of the Awesome Foundation, and wrote a grant for Nor to move his art forward. The Awesome trustees loved his work, and appreciated that I wrote the grant specifically to benefit another deserving artist. When the foundation contacted me in January with an award, I was thrilled for the support and encouragement this would bring to Nor's ambitions and aspirations. The grant was just what was needed to frame the work, purchase art materials, bring his art to exhibition, and make it more archival. A small amount of money remained, which provided honorariums to the artist and interpreter (what we call 'food money').

The interest in Nor's work seemed to propel this artist into new realms, increasing his detailed observations and nuances in his storytelling. With assistance from the grant, I was able to bring him new kinds of papers and markers to experiment with, to frame artworks, buy easels; but the other gift that developed was the dialog between us, often in the common language of art.

As Paul Wellstone once said, "We all do better when we all do better." -- this is especially true for artists, and one reason I enjoy collaboration. Our application to Made Here, Represent was created after an idea of Malidoma Patrice Soma, "Being born into this world in a particular place is like having the signature of that place stamped upon you." - from the Healing Wisdom of Africa. Our showcase, Dwelling, is rich with pictorial narratives of home and homeland; along with memories, dreams, and fantasies of the places we call home. 

I'm honored to show my work with Nor downtown, in a place of high visibility, and for the premier exhibition for this exceptional artist. Dwelling will be on view both day and (lit up at) night, installed in a window and viewed from the street, in a building on the corner of 8th and Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN. 

The exhibit will remain up all summer, until 29 September.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Three Eleven Sixteen

This painting is for my friends at Somali Health Solutions -

Monday, August 24, 2015

Hey, Aren't You Somebody?

At Hennepin Hustory Museum until September 13th - Don't miss it!

Portrait installation at "Hey, Aren't You Somebody?" top row, l to r ~ Salah, Bobo, Jenny, Pete, Mune; middle row ~ Bill, Osman, Sarah, Lu, Frank; (dog portraits) bottom row ~ Kari, Abdiweli, Diane
The museum curator is an incurable ailurophile;
from the gallery entrance ~ front center - portrait of Frank; l - portraits by Pam; r - weavings by Ubah and Nura

Portraits and weavings installed in "Hey, Aren't You Somebody?" at Hennepin History Museum

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Somali Independence Day 2015

Lake Street, Minneapolis
June 13, 2015

I asked this young girl, " Ma nabad baa?"  and she said, "Take my picture!"

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Portraits Incorporate Influence of Somali Handweaving

Portrait of Mune

Study for Portrait of Mune

Portrait of Seven (Revised)
My next exhibition at Hennepin History Museum will feature some of my portraits, photographs, and hand-weavings made locally by Somali and Oromo elder women artists. Meanwhile, these motifs are weaving their way into my paintings~!

Weaving Study ii

Weaving Study i

Thanks to Amina, Ardo, Hawo, Hawo, Nura, and Hawo (yes, there were three women named Hawo!) who taught me hand-weaving, or Farshaxameedka Soomaliyeed last summer at the Somali Museum, in Minneapolis. Since celebrating with women weavers locally at their exhibit at the McKnight Foundation offices in 2008, I have been intrigued with the designs, colors, and techniques practiced by some of the amazing and talented women in our community.

My New Weaving (in progress)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

One Door Closes; Another Door Opens

After I lost my job as scientist at the University of Minnesota Department of Epidemiology in 2006, an acquaintance asked me to teach an art class for Somali girls at a non-profit organization in Minneapolis. This was on the West Bank, near the apartments which the community calls 'Cedars' -- and, it was organized to help women have a safe place to leave their children (in each others' care, like a co-op), while they went across the street to learn English. 
Portrait of Mohamed

I taught the class for girls, and then I stayed on to volunteer until I found work. And so I had a chance to follow several east African women around the small kitchen at the center to learn about their cuisine. This was especially fun, because a) they were fabulous cooks, and b) they didn't know a lot of English.  So, if there were five women in the kitchen there might be four languages spoken, and lots of laughter.  They didn't have English words for all the ingredients, which meant smelling the spices to guess the names. Chasing after the women with my note pad, I created recipes to try later -- with mixed success.

Learning about Somali cuisine was my entry point to working in the community on health and wellness initiatives, which I have done for the past eight years.  My background in public health and nutrition brought me to work with east African elders in community clinics and other businesses, where I have learned and taught in equal measure. I partnered with UCare to give out free shoes to clients to increase physical activity, taken folks on 'walking tours'. I've worked on a Somali language film and other educational materials concerning public health and nutrition. Assisted by countless amazing colleagues and interpreters (much more than simply translating a language, my Somali interpreters patiently explain cultural and religious customs along the way), I've really come to love Somali language and culture.

Bar ama baro. (Somali proverb, meaning - "Learn or teach") For me, learning Somali language starts with the cuisine.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Two Recent Exhibitions - Instinct Art Gallery and Made Here

Self & Others ~ Instinct Art Gallery, 940 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis MN ~ July 26 - September 8, 2014

Miss the exhibition? Here is more information:

Photo credit - Instinct Art Gallery - Self & Others at Instinct Art Gallery, portraits by Stu Mead (l) and Pamela Gaard (r)  (also in exhibition although not seen in this photo ~ Frank Gaard and Nancy Robinson)

Portrait of Salah

Portrait of Matt

Portrait of Char
Thanks to Euan Kerr and MPR for their interest in the exhibition~!

Also, my Portrait of Osman, the Founder of Somali Museum of MN, is installed at the Somali Museum's pop-up gallery, as part of Made Here @

Portrait of Osman

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seven Sixteen Twenty Fourteen

Portrait of Lu
Self-Portrait 2013
Portrait of Nancy
Portrait of Betsy
Portrait of Mohamed
Portrait of Frank
Portrait of Zainab

Self and Others

Self and Others reminds us why portrait painting will never die: we can never fully understand ourselves or others, nor keep from trying.  Opening Saturday July 26 with a reception from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., Self and Others runs through September 6. Instinct Art Gallery is located at 940 Nicollet Mall. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, noon to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The exhibition is curated by John Schuerman and features the art of Frank Gaard, Pamela Gaard, Stu Mead, and Nancy Robinson. High-res images are available upon request. Images Attached (in order): Nancy Robinson, Frank Gaard, Pamela Gaard, Stu Mead, Postcard.

About the Artists:
For many years Nancy Robinson has painted narratives with herself as the protagonist.  She runs away from creepy people on the streets, finds herself painting a clothed model without her own clothes on, is the girl that walks into a bar and feels all male eyes turn, finds herself waking up in bed with a Pinocchio-like being, and is in the Garden of Eden as both Adam and Eve.  These are dreamy sequences we relate to, because we too know, that the world is weird and really like that, and we could easily be there in her place. These are not pretend, 'dress-up' self-portraits in the vein of Max Beckman or Cindy Sherman, they are real stories.

Frank and Pamela Gaard have been creating dual portraits of family, and people they've met along the way.  In part, it is socializing.  Pamela says, 'it's a way to get to know someone on a Thursday morning'.  Frank does a lot of the talking and engaging of the subject.  His portraits are comic, expressionist, and cut to the core -to the one bright color within. Pamela takes the quieter observational vantage point.  She distills the person and flavors them with touches of realism. "I think a portrait's successful when I catch that verisimilitude; maybe it's the psychology of the person or just a quirk that they do which is recognized by those that know them well."  The dual portrait is synergistic. We see the person at one moment in time, through two different artists.  They make the complexity of a living human being visible like no other static portraits.

Stuart Mead as a portrait painter -is able to pierce visual reality, sweep away the irrelevant visual cues and render and  accentuate the ones that tease the mind --and still we think, 'that really must be what she looks like'.  We get a true likeness of the sitter, 'the other' but heavy with Stu's gaze and what he wants of them, his 'self'. Hailed (and dissed) for  his desirous overtones, he calls you. Come decide for yourself if these are not wonderful portraits.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Somali TV

Somali Channel TV ~ April 13, 2014

This link brings you to my brief Somali TV  interview on Farshaxanka Soomaaliyeed (Somali Weaving) at the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum, in Minneapolis, MN. The news that day was that the Minneapolis City Council and mayor presented the document announcing July 1st in Minneapolis as "Somali-American Day" to the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum for safe-keeping. Several leaders in the Somali community spoke, including our new city councilman, Abdi Warsame, and Osman Ali, founder of the Somali Museum. I am honored to be included in the evening.

Weaving is a huge part of Somali tradition among the women, as you see in this youtube video:
Farshaxanka Soomaaliyeed

In Somalia, nomadic women wove their mats to pray on, sleep on, as rugs, and to cover the aqal Soomaali (nomadic hut), wove vessels to carry milk and water in, and they even wove their own rope. They wove a mat to place between the camel and the haan, or milk container, to protect the wood of the haan from scratching the camel. And there were other woven objects, including a sort of apron they'd put on the rams for birth control, because 'the rams had no season, like the other animals', in other words they were trying to procreate all the time, according to a man named Omar, who I met at an early unveiling of the Somali Museum. So the women must have been always weaving..... when they weren't busy milking goats or camels, cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, chasing the rams off the ewes, or putting up and taking down the hut.

Early in my clinical work in the Somali community in Minneapolis, I saw a young girl as a patient. Her mother thought she wasn't eating well, as sent her to see me, the dietitian at a community clinic. I interviewed the girl, and coming from a public health background I asked her, "What is the first thing you usually eat or drink after you wake up?" And, she said, "Well, my mom makes this thing like a pancake, and then she puts tea on it, and I eat some of that." And, I said, "So, how much cangeero do you eat at breakfast?" And, she turned her head to look at me and her eyes got really big. . . and, she said, "How do you know cangeero?!"

I learn from my clients - bar ama baro, meaning "learn or teach" - certainly sums up the past seven years in which I've worked exclusively in Somali-owned businesses, clinics, and non-profits serving our fabulous community of mostly Somali elders living in Minneapolis. I feel privileged to work with these elders.

I've learned about biriise iyo basto, soor, ambuula, malawax, muufo, roti, cangeero, buur, timur, halwa, iyo molub. My favorite Somali food word is 'qaxwa', a kind of coffee made from hulls.

Pamela Gaard - Portrait of Osman on Somali TV

Friday, February 14, 2014

Shalom / Nabad Opening Night -- January 31, 2014

The torah commands us thirty-six times to "Welcome the stranger and love them as yourself."

I was born in North Minneapolis and my family moved to St. Louis Park when I was five. My friend Mark Z, who lived up the street from us growing up, had parents who were holocaust survivors -- his mom, Sabina Zimering, wrote a book about her experience, called Hiding in the Open. My friend Mary R had parents who came from Poland to escape the war. My grandmother lived with us often, although for many years, she had an old house in Duluth, too. She was Russian, and by modern standards, rather unkempt and frighteningly direct. My friends were scared of her, but I always thought she was a pussycat, and that she was instrumental to my survival.

This show is an artistic rebirth for me. It's my first solo exhibition in Minneapolis, in an indoor space! I've made these portraits for the past five years -- they are of friends, other artists, people I've worked with, or know in the community. They're all made from live sittings and photos I take of the model, with one exception (Mogadishu Calling Minneapolis, which is an invention).

The first time I met a group of Somali elders, I worked at a clinic on the west bank in Minneapolis. My manager gave me a stack of surveys, and said, "Go out in the waiting room, and give these out." So I went out in the waiting room and found the room full of pairs of people, young and old, or sometimes middle-age to old, as most of the east African patients at the clinic were with their interpreters, as they didn't speak English. I spent a lot of time over the next several years working with these patients, in groups of two or three, with interpreters, and found these elders generally to be friendly, sweet, polite, more European than mid-western, to have a sense of humor, and  that many are willing to teach as well as to learn.

When I was growing up and there was need for a dentist, we called Irving. Need a butcher? Call Mordechai! Need an accountant? Call Sheila!
Working in the local east African community, when you need a physical therapist, you call Mohamed. Need a mortgage banker? Call Abdi! Need an interpreter? Call Nafiso!
Shalom / Nabad ~ Pamela Gaard portraits at Traffic Zone, Minneapolis

This article written by Brian Klaas appeared recently in the StarTribune, and it represents the successful community that I see here -
One in five Somalis is employed in a Somali-owned business, and I see a strong entrepreneurial workforce and a community flourishing -- many folks getting their citizenship, completing college degrees, starting families, gaining professional employment, and buying homes.

I've worked in the east African community for six years now, and feel fortunate to have a job I love.  Learning a few words in Somali has brought me new friends and closer to the elders in particular. I love to see the joy and surprise on their faces when we exercise together and I count from one to ten in af Soomaali!

Galab wanaagsan. Bal an iskaa baro. Magacaygu waa Pam, Magacaa? Waxaan aqaan wax yar af Soomaali! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Shalom / Nabad

Traffic Zone Gallery presents Shalom / Nabad, an exhibition of new artworks by Minneapolis artist Pamela Gaard.


Opening Reception ~ Friday, January 31, from 6:00 to 8:30 PM (remarks at 7 PM)

Traffic Zone Gallery, 250 Third Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55401

Gallery Hours: Monday - Friday, 9:00 - 5:30 PM


Shalom / Nabad is "peace" in two languages (Hebrew / Somali) and both words are also used as greetings in their respective cultures.

Pamela Gaard’s portraits transcend the barriers of language, examining cultural identity and preservation. They illuminate faces which often go unseen ~ Somali and other east African elders, who now (some for up to 20 years) call Minnesota home. Her portraits of friends, colleagues, and other artists ~ along with elders from east Africa ~ create a utopian society where people of all ages, religions, and cultures unite. These pictures reflect the changing face of Minnesota, now home to 75,000 Somalis who have settled here through the African diaspora; becoming the largest community outside of Mogadishu.

Artist Statement
“My interest in portraying Somali and other east African elders is to honor those who traditionally are leaders and healers in their community. Most of the elders don't speak English, and I work with interpreters to sketch and photograph the models, and later finish the portraits in my studio. These paintings would not be possible without the help of many scholars, teachers, colleagues and friends in the community. I have been creating portraits for six years. They are made with thin glazes of acrylics, and sometimes collage, on heavyweight archival French paper, and indulge my interests in cultural diversity, ornament, costume, and psychology.”
-- Pamela Gaard

Artist Biography
Pamela Gaard studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and later received advanced degrees in the sciences. She is largely self-taught as an artist. Her work has been included in 50 exhibitions nationally and in Europe. For the past six years, she has worked with Somali and other east African elders in healthcare and community settings, and recently has created portraits of some of the elders in our community. Through her studies, she is acquiring rudimentary skills in Somali language. She also knows some Hebrew and Yiddish. The Islamic art influence evidenced in her work is inherited from her Turkish grandfather. As a Jew and second-generation American, she is intrigued with how cultural traditions, language, and customs are preserved through the generations; and she is compelled to welcome newcomers to our community.

Pamela Gaard is a fiscal year 2013 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.