About the Project

This project is to raise funds for me to visit Somaliland as an artist in residence with the Horn Heritage Foundation Horn Heritage is a non-profit, apolitical organisation dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the Horn of Africa.
I have a particular interest in this part of the world because I am an adult Anglo Somali transracial adoptee. This means that as a brown baby born in the 1960s I was adopted into a white family who already had three sons of their own.
Growing up before the internet, there was very little available for me to learn about my Somali heritage, whereas my Englishness was unavoidable. If I told people I’m half Somali, it was immediately followed up by being asked if I’d ever been there. I hadn’t. I knew as much as the person asking the question. It was awkward. I started to tell people I was from Alpha Centuri as a means of deflecting attention from my own ignorance.
All the time, I really wanted to go to Somalia. However, I got older and Somalia started to look like a problematic destination, not because of the political situation but because I really wouldn’t know where to start. I’m not culturally a person with Somali heritage and the more I have travelled, I’ve realised culture is fundamental to what defines people. This knowledge also made me despair of finding some common ground to start with. No amount of shared bone structure and hair texture can replace that, I knew nothing apart from headlines that came from a faraway gaze that only paid attention to tragedy.
Nevertheless, by 2019, I realised that I am genuinely bothered about the fact I don’t even know what Somalis like to have for breakfast and I began digging about on the internet looking for Somali cultural heritage. I found a TedTalk by Dr Sada Mire on the importance of cultural heritage to everyone. I watched it a couple of times and felt that for the first time, there was someone I could actually ask without making a complete idiot of myself. So I did; I wrote an email explaining myself in as concise a way as I possibly could (which isn’t easy) and then spent the next day fretting about what I’d written. But she replied with the most uplifting and welcoming response; she was really kind and interested in my story; she valued my voice and understood why I would want to know more. She introduced me to Somali people here and for the past two years I have been working with her on a project creating a digital museum of Somali artefacts that are held in museums and galleries across the globe, as well as presenting the finds she and her colleagues have made in Somaliland.
Through Sada, I’ve learned about the rock paintings , the cities that have become hidden , the traditional skills that have been passed on from pre-Islamic times; that there were Christian sects, animists, Muslim mystics, that there are groves of sacred olive trees, stone cairns and that Somali culture is rich with stories that talk about the landscape and the people. The more I know, the more I long to go there.
Horn Heritage has invited me to go to Hargeisa as an artist in residence. Of course, I will make art that responds to this experience, but I will also share my skills, as a photographer and artist with local students and I have devised some workshops that will engage with both digital and analogue methods that can be used to continue telling stories into the future. My residency role will also support the archaeological team documenting their work in the field.
We sought funding, but this is a fairly unusual thing to want to do in this context, so convincing funders has so far been unsuccessful. This is why I decided to set up this fundraiser, as once an element of the project has been funded and documented, we will be able to provide real examples to institutional funders of how useful this kind of input can be.
I am hoping to raise £2,000 for the airfare, accommodation, teaching and art-making materials that will cover a two-week visit that would also include visits to sites where archaeological exploration is ongoing where my role would be to document the wider project and hopefully learn about the technologies that has been used to construct virtual 3d models of significant and important Somali cultural treasures which can be accessed online by people across the globe.
Of course, this is about a kind of homecoming, this is a profoundly personal project, but it is also a fundamental aspect of my practice. I have always been deeply interested in how any of us become the people that we do, and what traces we leave behind in the hearts of others and in the landscapes we all share.

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