Self portraits

Self 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 speak, 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 parts of Somalia until just a couple of generations ago, the 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 wove their own rope. They wove a mat to place between the camel and the haan, or milk container, to protect the branches 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 bara, meaning "Teach or learn" - certainly sums up the past seven years in which I've made my living by working in Somali-owned businesses, clinics, and non-profits serving our fabulous community of mostly Somali elders living in Minneapolis.

Waxaan aqaan biriise iyo basto, soor, ambuula, malawax, muufo, cangeero, roti, timur, muus, halwa iyo molub. I think of these twelve as the 'carbohydrate clock' of the Somali diet - one for each hour of the day, not that they are eaten that way, but simply as a mnemonic device. My favorite Somali food word is 'qaxwa', a kind of coffee made from hulls, which sounds like a word in a sneeze if you say it just right!

Galab Wanaagsan!

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).

Traffic Zone Gallery - Shalom / Nabad - Pamela Gaard

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!

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 here 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 opened many doors for me, and I love to see the joy on the faces of the elders when I count 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.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thoughts on Portraiture, etc.

I gave a portrait to an elderly Somali woman who was one of my models, and she told me (with our interpreter) that she will send the picture to her daughter, who lives in Sweden. She then said 'thank-you' in English; to which I said, 'aada mudan', meaning 'you're welcome' in the colloquial sense, but literally meaning 'you deserve it'.

My portraits include faces of the African diaspora, and honor the person portrayed, but, also, these portraits as a group possess the power to create further conversations in our community. The elders have many stories to tell, and I love the stories, but my ability to understand and share them is limited with our language differences; also, parts of our 'conversations' are non-verbal. Portraiture is part of this conversation, and through this act -- which involves trust -- we gain some understanding of each others' lives and cultures.

Bar ama baro ("teach or learn" -af Soomaali) 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

When I wrote the grant about a year ago, I had this naive and optimistic idea that I'd be bringing more groups of older Somali and other east African women and men into our art museums, with interpreters; and, by this act I would integrate them further into the community. I imagined their excitement as they engaged with new material, and how this would enrich their lives in numerous ways. But my field trips have become fewer rather than increasing in numbers like I'd hoped.

After six years of working almost exclusively in the east African community, I often feel like an outsider, which, of course I am. The elders seem content in their familiar surroundings with other elders, sharing common languages, food, traditions, and customs from the old country, similar to my Russian and Turkish grandparents, who spoke Yiddish as a common language, and ate separate meals of Kosher food. It will be Somali and other east African artists - the children and grandchildren of these elders -- who interpret and share the stories of their elders through their own poetry and art, and who keep the language(s) and traditions of their culture alive.
Studio view -- portraits in progress

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Simultaneous Portraits ~ Made Here

In downtown Minneapolis from 9/28/13 to 1/6/14 on Block E ~ between 6th and 7th and Hennepin, on what used to be skid row ~ Simultaneous Portraits of Frank and Pam will exhibit in a show called Made Here  along with a group of other artists and a few institutions. For a map of the project and more info,

The art displays are all in windows of what Ben Haywood calls Minneapolis' most embarrassing, abandoned downtown mall. Thanks to Joan Vorderbruggen for her vision of the project, and to Hennepin Theatre Trust for sponsorship. In addition to the artworks, there is street theatre, poetry and live music. Stop by for the walking tour with the artists at Made Here on Friday, October 25th at 6:30 p.m.

Wedding Portraits by Frank & Pamela Gaard

Saturday, August 31, 2013

New Portraits

http://www.tcdailyplanet has published a short piece on my portraits of Somali elders in their community voices section; also in their visual arts listings.

Portrait of Hussein

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Self-Portrait with Dorothy Parker Quote

Self Portrait as Edyth Bush, by Pam Gaard (l)
Portrait of Edyth Bush, By Frank Gaard (r)

Self-Portrait Behind Pink Curtain, 2013

Monday, July 8, 2013


Thanks to everyone who came out to Susan Hensel Gallery on Cedar and 35th Ave. in South Minneapolis to see my portraits and proverbs ~! The next exhibit of these works (and further development) will be in late January, and, in winter months in Minnesota, it will be a challenge to get people out ~ thanks to Munira Hassan and Kayowe Mune for the photo.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Exhibition Review ~ Paintings & Proverbs

This art review Paintings & Proverbs ~ Exhibition by Amy Munice, captures the breadth of my work with Somali and other east African elders. I teach that a healthy diet, exercise, fresh (outdoor) air, visits to waters edge, community engagement, yoga, tai chi, breathing, friendship, creativity  (poetry, music, dancing, gardening, drawing, painting, stitching, I might even add cooking) along with mediation and/or prayer, all can make positive contributions to our health -- improving ills of all nature - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

My exhibit at Susan Hensel (window) Gallery is up through June 24th. I'll also exhibit my portraits and proverbs in the early part of next year at Traffic Zone, in Minneapolis. Many individuals in the community have helped and acted as interpreters to create my portraits of elders, who are non-English speakers -- including scholars, teachers, colleagues, and friends.

Installation view at Susan Hensel Gallery - through June 24

Pamela Gaard “Painting and Proverbs” Exhibition Review – Transcending History of Genocide, Religious and Language Barriers | Splash Magazines | Los Angeles

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Paintings & Proverbs ~ Susan Hensel Gallery (window) installation

Paintings & Proverbs will exhibit through June 24 ~ 3441 Cedar Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN 55407

The twin cities DailyPlanet ~  lists it as top pic~!

Add caption

Friday, April 19, 2013

Paintings & Proverbs

My upcoming exhibition, Paintings & Proverbs includes portraits of elders who have settled in Minneapolis from e. Africa, along with sayings and proverbs which defend their old-world wisdom in their native languages ~ exploring ways in which we inherit our cultural wisdom and identity. It's been a fun way for me to learn to speak af-Soomaali (Somali language) and a few words of Oromo.

This exhibition will be on view from May 7 to June 24 ~ at Susan Hensel (Window) Gallery, 3441 Cedar Ave So, Minneapolis, MN 55407. The gallery is not open for this event - the exhibition is in the storefront window only, which faces Cedar Avenue. For this reason, there is no official opening, but I'll post a few celebratory events during the 7weeks in which the exhibition is up.

Thanks to my many collaborators, teachers, interpreters and friends from our e. African community ~ !
For more information:

Portrait of Rade
Portrait of Khadra
Portrait of U

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Exhibition Announcement

A few of my artworks were selected and will be on view at the next production of Workhaus Collective at the Playwright's Center, in Minneapolis. The performance The Great Divide, by Alan Berks is 4/18 through 4/21, and the art is in the entry space of the building, which is on Franklin Ave.

Minneapolis Mosque

Welcome to Frank-and-Pamistan

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cad iyo Caano

For the past six years, I've taught elders from east Africa about diabetes and carbohydrates, exercise and frostbite, but (as is the case with teaching), I learn a lot along the way. The folks who lived in rural Somalia lived healthier lives in many ways than we do here -  there was not much diabetes or obesity, and, routinely folks tell me that when they return to Africa they lose weight.
Waxaan ku hadlaa wax yar af-Soomaali (I know a little Somali language.)

Back home, traditionally, one-third of our Somali elders were agricultural; one-third nomadic, and one-third city-dwellers. The agrarian folks grew their own maize and ground it into meal to make the staple food, cangeero. They grew pumpkins and greens, as well as sorghum, which was eaten as a grain. (Check out for more info -- including recipes -- on Somali cuisine.)  The nomads traded meat and milk from their goats and camels for grain and vegetables with the agricultural folks, and both traded with city-dwellers for other stuff. The insulin-like substance in camel milk explains the lower incidence of diabetes. Herbs and barks were used as medicine, to treat everything from GI illness to broken bones.

Elderly men who were nomadic earlier on in their lives are still in good health today, defying western medicine with their dietary habits of eating 'cad iyo caano' (pron. 'aad iyo aano'), which means a piece (of cooked goat meat) and milk. But, back home the meat was lean, grass fed, organic, and just moments from walking around to cooking on the fire. The camel milk, likewise, was fresh from grass fed animals, unpasteurized, with the cream on top.

Deg-deg door ma dhasho ~ [Hurry hurry; no blessing (Haste makes waste)]

Nin ku siray wax kuu sheeg ~ (A man who has cheated you has told you something)

I am learning af-Soomaali (Somali language) from small groups of elders who live here in Minneapolis, and these discs and small painted objects act as mnemonics. The proverbs are rich in narratives that tell the wisdom of the culture, often as they are spoken by its elders.  They represent my research into learning the language and proverbs from different parts of east Africa, mostly Somalia. These small paintings are made on re-purposed cd's, lp's and airline trays and they are about 6" x 6" to 12" x 12".  These, along with my portraits will be featured in my next exhibition ~ at Susan Hensel Gallery (the window gallery) in Minneapolis (Cedar Ave. S. @ 35th Street) in mid-May.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stranger Danger, Wu-Chi, & On Vacation

Hello, Sweden (twice as many views from Sweden as US the last few months)~ what's up?!
This short video made in Stockholm warmed my heart - and, it tells a story which is so universal to the diaspora.

"There is no such thing as luminous grey. Is that part of the concept of grey, or part of the psychology, i.e. the natural history, or grey? And isn't it odd that I don't know?" - Ludwig Wittgenstein -Remarks on Colour

Portrait of Ellie
Portrait of Rafi

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Couple More Portraits

Portrait of Frank, acrylic on canvas

These pictures may have been posted before in various incarnations, because sometimes I'll put them away for awhile and let them ferment, come back later, and work on them some more.

Portrait of Jennie, acrylic on BFK Rives, 29" x 22"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012