Self portraits

Self portraits

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! 
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