SAF (SOMALI ARTS FOUNDATION): in conversation with...

SAF (SOMALI ARTS FOUNDATION): in conversation with Mahad Mohamed

SAF (SOMALI ARTS FOUNDATION) is a contemporary art institution that aims to promote and create enabling environments for creative industries in Somalia, founded in September 2020 by Sagal Ali, a Somali-Danish art and cultural heritage professional and businesswoman. On this topic we had a conversation with Mahad Mohamed, SAF project manager.

Inner calm, outer connection Expo, 2022, photo courtesy Astaan Tv

Felicienne Lauro: Thank you very much for your time, I feel honoured to have the possibility to talk to you about SAF (Somali Art Foundation). To start, I would ask if you could talk to me about the process of creation of this Art Foundation? What lead to the creation of SAF?
Mahad Mohamed: SAF was founded in September 2020 and it was, and still is, the only art institution that is working in Somalia. SAF was founded mostly to support local artist, to get a space where they can express themselves and explore different kind of art media, more also to connect Somali artist locally and globally. Before 2020 it was very difficult to find a space like SAF where artists can come, find mentorship, find a space where they could come together and create, meet, network, and also exhibit, so that was the base plan for SAF.

Did contemporary artists have enough space to express themselves before this art foundation? What does SAF want to do for them?
Before SAF there weren’t any spaces for artists, so this foundation helped them to bring them together. Somali community have been trough a lot in the past few decades, civil war and anarchy, SAF becomes a bridge, it helps the community to find a form of self-expression, self-healing using art as a way of coping mechanism. We try to help not only the community but also the artist to express what they feel and create it on the canvas, or in music, or on film. SAF is a place where people can find their voice and their healing. Our aim is to use art to promote peace and to find peace in art.

Inner calm, outer connection Expo, 2022, photo courtesy Astaan Tv

This leads me to another question: arts foundations, as museums and art galleries, can have a very important role in the city they are settled in, for education and integration. What is the role of SAF in the community? Is the foundation only for artist or do you try to open to all the population? Do you have a didactic aim?
Since the creation of SAF we are trying to help not only artists but also the community, through workshops, residencies within the locals, giving mentorships. Art is not to commercialize but a place where people can express themselves and find their voices. For examples recently we created a collective both for artist and for who wanted to learn about art, in a way to enjoy their free time and give them the confidence to create on their own.

In which way does your Foundation choose artists? I saw that you highly incentivize women artists to continue developing their work. What role does SAF have in the Somali feminist community?
SAF does not chose artists of a specific gender, but for the past few events SAF has been promoting woman as there was a gap where woman where not active in the creative industry within Somalia, artists were only male. Somali woman did not have a safe place where they could learn, explore, SAF wants to boost their confidence and stand for them. Many women that came to learn how to photograph in our workshop have made of photography their fulltime job, and SAF has helped them with the equipment, with jobs and to build their work. They have done quite an amazing job, and we are very proud of them.

Through my lens, Expo, 2022, photo courtesy Mahad Mohamed

Do you think SAF has helped the art community in Somalia? Three years from our opening, can you see any differences from before? Have you inspired the opening of more artistic realities, or do you remain isolated?
There are some artists that thanks to SAF have created their own studio, some created their own places where they create their own exhibitions, they finally have the potential of moving forward, of seeing art beyond how they use to see it. There is still a lot of work to do but they are building up from the ground.

What are your plans for Somali Art Foundation? Are you planning in opening other sites, maybe in other cities?
Although we are physically based in Mogadishu, Somalia, we work with Somali artists globally and our ambition is to have chapters across the Horn of Africa, and throughout the Diaspora.

Felicienne Lauro



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