A famous young female Somali painter is speaking through her paintings across Somalia, and people are noticing.
Nujuum Hashi Ahmed’s paintings are about the day to day life of the common Somali citizen. Her paintings are about peace, an end to the conflict in the country and Somalia where there is abundant food and prosperity.
Her art studio is located in her small apartment in the capital Mogadishu. She spends most of her time painting and notes that for her, the scariest thing in life is an empty canvas.
One can see a partly done canvas board resting against the wall and containers of paint on the floor. In front of one large painting she is working on, there are six paint brushes sticking out from a multicolored tin, and just next to it is a tray she uses to mix colors. Beside the tray are more brushes of various sizes.
One of her paintings depicts a woman who has a hand covering her mouth as if being muffled and prevented from speaking out.
“I want to continue making this beautiful image of Somali girls because we as Somali females can do whatever we decide to do in our lives, and we can create our own lives without fearing anyone. Our society is a male-dominated society, but we are struggling and fighting against that domination, that we also can make our dreams come true through our hard work and we can speak out and be heard,” said Nujuum.
Forced to flee her home in Mogadishu due to war in 2007, she went to the city of Hargeisa in Somaliland, a self-declared but internationally unrecognized republic that is still considered part of Somalia.
In Hargeisa, she studied nursing and practiced it at Hargeisa General Hospital among other places, following in the footsteps of her father, who also worked in the health industry as an anesthetist.
But this is not the only thing she picked up from her father.
“My father used to do paintings and drawings but he never shared them with anyone. That is where I got my inspiration from — from him. That is when I started doing my own art.”
Nujuum stayed in Hargeisa juggling between painting and nursing until peace returned to Mogadishu.
“I used to do paintings on the streets, even on the roads and everywhere, just to relax my soul from the war and the pain that we have gone through in our childhood.”
The European Union’s diplomatic compound in Somalia has previously called on Nujuum to make murals for them. Nicolas Berlanga, the European Union’s ambassador to Somalia, has recognized the talent that Nujuum has and the messages she spreads.
Nujuum did two murals and a number of small paintings for the EU diplomatic compound in Somalia.
On his official twitter account, Nicolas Berlanga said that “we opened a second mural at EU diplomatic compound today. Another expression of diversity and fraternity against those who love borders and differences. Nujuum has become a friend and her art is with us now permanently. A legend at the bottom [of the mural] says: “decide, law, peace”.
Nujuum tackles various day to day aspects of life in Somalia through her paintings, including the rights of women, politics, peace and conflict.
“I am not afraid of anyone, as long as God is with me and always protecting me. I know some people really believe that art is a bad thing. I trust that art can create and store our culture, our existence as Somali people.
“It can create this experience and this history that we will leave for the next generation. I believe that every community and every country and every culture needs to be stored. I am doing this for my country so that one day people will take notice that art was very important,” she said.
She noted that personally she has realized that “this job of being an artist is better than being a nurse because nursing is not my passion. Art has been my passion even from a young age.”
“I am trying to build a positive image about my country, so I am not afraid of anyone except my God, and I am sure He is protecting me. It is not easy to be an artist and a woman in Somalia because people believe that women should not be in the focus, they should just stay home and do nothing, and just maybe have babies and raise a family. I never give ears to those people. I continue to have my own life.”
For Nujuum, a stable and prosperous Somalia is her greatest dream. She wants the youth to bring change and lasting peace to Somalia in any way possible.
“It is my dream to have a small interior design company and studio where I sell my artworks and a little space to teach other talented young Somalis to have the art skills they need. I want to work and teach others to have skills so that they can support their lives,” she said.
Nujuum’s art has been praised by many in Somalia who believe that it spreads the message of hope. They include Aden Ali, a 48-year-old businessman in Mogadishu, who said “the art is depicting our daily lives, our international partners, our fight for a stable country. I will definitely buy from her.”
Most of her paintings can be seen at the Hargeisa Cultural Center, “the EU diplomatic compound in Mogadishu and my little studio, my room.”