When you Google Somali people, images of refugees, starving families, or pirates dominate the search engine. That breaks my heart because we are more than our pain and struggle yet that is all the world is shown.
Farhiya Jama is a Canadian-Somali Artist. A self-described “Visual Storyteller” distinct in the way she marries her words with her Art. “I was a writer well before I was ever a visual artist. I initially used words to create the representation I hungered for, but it wasn’t enough or rather I knew I could do more. I included graphic arts then photography later on. Before I start on a new visual piece, I already have created a short story in my head. My words heavily influence my visuals. They co-exist as a yin and yang, complimenting each other. While they could stand alone, together they are more of a dynamic combination.” Farhiya is well known for visibly centering Black Muslim women and girls in her art which encompasses Afro-Futurism, and Fantasy with a touch of Supernatural Realism.
Afro-Futurism- A Movement in Literature, Music, and Art, featuring Futuristic or Science fiction themes which incorporate elements of Black history and culture.
Riya believes it is of the utmost importance to visibly center Muslim Black women and girls into her art as they are rarely present in the mainstream. “It is essential to me that Hijabs exist in space too. I want a young Muslimah to know that she too exists and to also value her Black skin more because it is celebrated in my various universes.” The universes Jama refers to are worlds where ordinary Somalis serve as the ultimate muses. Her subjects are often portrayed in a manner which belies their circumstances. You are introduced to everyday Somali life through an unbiased lens, straight from the streets of Somalia.
Riyas intentions with these works are to redefine a people and culture that is often misconstrued in Western media. “When you Google Somali people, images of refugees, starving families, or pirates dominate the search engine. That breaks my heart because we are more than our pain and struggle yet that is all the world is shown. We are more than the way we have been irresponsibly criminalized in the media and the diasporic cities we fled to after the war started. I want my art to honor Somali people’s humanities. I call us the “Children of Somalia” and I create artistic expression of works that make that phrase one to be proud of. I want my art to challenge the societal stereotypes forced on my people and instead celebrate the diversity and richness of my Somalinimo rather than criminalize it.”
Riya is clear on the message she wants to send with her art. “My biggest purpose with my art is to ensure that another Black little girl who shares my narratives will never suffer from not seeing her self-reflected in these fantastical worlds she loves to get lost in. I know that if I had an artist like myself when I was younger, I would have thrived instead of suffered. I would have been unstoppable with my confidence because I knew I mattered too and would use these art pieces to justify my desire to not require approval from anyone else outside of myself.”
In one particular piece, the subject is a personal reflection of the artist “I have a piece titled ‘Fangs of Caraweelo’ and it’s a mixed media of a young smiling Somali girl that I manipulated to change the color of her skin, eyes and provide her with fangs. Everything about it thrills me to no end because it reminds me of how during my childhood and adolescence I starved for representation. This piece makes my heart tender because I love vampires and creating a Somali version is fundamental in carving out my place in mythical worlds I was denied of growing up.”
Black joy is sacred in general but specifically, Black joy of Black women is holy. It’s a miracle to witness in a world that actively tries to strip us of our beauty.
Drawing from her personal childhood experiences of mainstream Art, Riya reflects “I was force fed European artists as the only prime example of what artistic brilliance looked like. Art that never reflected anyone who looked like me. So by taking these ‘iconic’ bodies of work and adding a Somali person, it’s my gentle reminder that we have always existed despite how desperate others have tried to erase us.” Riya underscores the importance of representation in her art “Black Joy is sacred in general, but specifically, Black Joy of Black women is holy. It’s a miracle to witness in a world that actively tries to strip us of our beauty. Black Girl Magic is an aesthetic I try to live by on a daily basis.”