Before We Were Banned: Interview with Ifrah Mansour

I am a Refugee, 2017 TRT 03:27 Poem, Video Photo by Adam Bettencourt.

I am a Refugee, 2017
TRT 03:27
Poem, Video
Photo by Adam Bettencourt.

What does home mean to you?

Home is everywhere my loved ones are, so home is a quiet rainy Seattle, the cold and seemingly unkind St. Cloud, the arid-timid Gaalkacyo, and the summer lushis Kismayo and the bustling Nairobi. Home is also where you remember the most

Where are you a local?

I live in Minneapolis, MN.

Please describe the journey (emotional and/or physical) behind your work. As wars have intensified in our home countries and the immigration system tightens in the US, what/who was the source of strength in your creative process?

I am inspired by my lived experience and that of my refugee, Muslims, Somali, black and immigrant trying to make a home in North America. I was also inspired by what brings people together. I was only a child when my and I had fled our home country of somalia as a civil war broke out, displacing thousands of people. No one should ever have to go through what a refugee experiences. The refugee experience is diverse and unique for every individual. The hope is that, regardless of race, religion, and circumstance, we learn to see all humans as individuals who should have equal rights to find a safe home and the pursuit of happiness. Ain’t that what we all want?

Did BWWB allow you to voice your narrative authentically?

Before finding this exhibit, I had been dying to find a place to share this poem. I think we often see allyship as elevating the global issues of immigrants. But for me, it's equally important to see someone with similar background and experiences standing up for you. It's inspiring, encouraging, and helpful to other refugees that they too find home, safety, and belonging like we did here (even with all the complexities that it comes with). This is what Kiana & Mahya did for all of us; they dreamt big and bold enough to create a community-art-exhibit for us marginalized communities to come together, stand up for each other, and support each other. 

How did the event go and how did it feel to show your work?

I didn't get to experience it directly, but the exhibit organizers were really good at sharing photos/videos online. It was the kind of Brown Art Magic that we really need right now to validate our voices, which are inhibited by the constant external forces we’re expected to face every day. 

What was the most meaningful comment you received or heard? And why?

For me, it's not a compliment, It was the inclusion and being part of an exhibit conceived and made success by fellow women-of-color.

Did this event change the way you think about your identity? If so, how so?

No, I’m still me: a stressed out, over-committed artist who has a lot of snow shelving to do. But I do feel inspired to keep sharing and creating because art can amplify our diminished voices, shine a light on our strength, and give us courage when we need it most. People of color need art now more than ever.

Being an artist from the BWWB regions in the US can feel inherently politicized. Does this dynamic apply in your ‘home nation’? Do you hope to show your art in your home country/country of origin, or can it only exist outside of that space?

I dream of bringing my show “How to Have Fun in a Civil War”  to Somalia one day fully knowing that the Somali locals will have a field day with my broken Somali.

How did your art fit in with the larger themes of the exhibition? In your own words, what were those themes (both yours and the exhibition’s)?

The poem delved into the complexities and the contradictions of living in America while black, Muslim, immigrant, refugee and now banned Americans. The poem responds to the ongoing global refugee politics that is often harsh and dehumanizing. Still, I just wanted to write a poem that listed all the blessings and the lessons refugees teach us. This poem was inspired by the new refugees that I work as an educator. There is always a mixture of hope and perseverance. There is this unapologetic strength of, "We’ve survived civil wars, famines, and tyrants. We’ll get through this as well."

Art can be a vehicle to break down myths, like the “good immigrant myth.” What kind of discursive work does your art—on its own—aim to do?

Personally, Well, darn, I didn’t get the fancy job, car, house, or husband, so I’m failing to meet this myth and I’ve never been more proud of my life choices, maybe for except my addiction to chocolate. 

However, My art aims to educate others about Somalia and Somalis on subject matters other than female oppression, terrorism, al-Shabaab and why young Somalis constantly travel to the home country. I usually sprinkle random agricultural information about Somalia so that folks learn few a mundane facts that they can use to pester their next Somali victim. 

How do these myths strain our communities?

For me, art gives me control over my story and how my story is told. Both of these are equally important as the content of my story. I also believe in challenging our communities so that we can thrive to be more inclusive, to keep extending and accepting individuals that don’t fit into community's identity- profile list. 

Time seems to me to be a central concept in the exhibit. Those in power abuse immigrants on their own leisure and based on their own inadequacies. The time of immigrants in the US is disposable. Did BWWB serve as a space for artists to reclaim that time (time spent separated from family, time spent worrying, and time in limbo)?

While I see and feel the oppression of refugees globally and right here at home, I also see how easy  we can get distracted from the bigger picture. Our liberations are tied to one another, and how it will take us (marginalized communities) to share, shout, and shine our voices—and our truth. I feel inspired more than ever to create because we need art for those without voice; those that look just like me; those that are experiencing global displacement as I did. 

Was BWWB a space for healing for immigrants under Trump’s administration? Can you imagine other similar spaces? How can we strengthen our sense of community and solidarity?

BWWB was a healing a space for immigrants indeed.  I get to extend my support family all the way to Brooklyn. It felt really good to be in a community of like-minded individuals who have so much depth and insight into their own respective communities and experiences. It's going to take all of us to stand against injustices and intolerance. We’ll keep using the powers of art and imagination. 

Ifrah Mansour: "I am a Somali female multi-media artist residing in Minneapolis. I interweave text, movement, and digital media to create a multi-sensory artwork that illuminates the invisible stories of immigrants. My artwork takes on the form of plays, poetry, installations, puppetry, and community collaborative artworks. My artwork is informed by my lived experience, and that of my community as Muslim refugees and Somali immigrants."