How a young Somali artist who left home as a child used comics as a medium to re-narrate Somali stories.
“Children and young people more generally love imaginary super heroes, and I appreciated that these super heroes come to life through them, but I asked myself once, what would a young Somali person need to see, know and learn through a Somali super hero”, says Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh.
A Minnesota based Somali poet, actor and writer, Sheikh is commonly known as Ahmed. He’s now completed what he calls the first Somali comic book written under the pen name M. Hajji Ahmed.
“Growing up I didn’t see many stories that could speak to my experience, and the experiences of other Somalis, so my ambition to enter acting, write poetry and create art in general comes from that,” 25-year-old Ahmed tells TRT World.
“I want to use this medium as a tool not only to entertain young Somali people, but also teach them about our culture, our history and religion and from our perspective which is something that isn’t widely available” he continues.
“The story needed this character because when I’m told about Somali history, I hear about these heroic women, who took this important role in the anti-colonial movement like Hawo Taako,” Ahmed say.
Somali women were always at the forefront of the anti-colonial struggle, and through Leylo, he fills those voids in our knowledge, and re-normalises their presence through fictive characters.
Leylo, herself a competent warrior is denied the opportunity to fight, before her father intervenes and allows her to take part in restoring peace to their world. “Women lose just as much as men during war, a problem I saw with my own two eyes, so through L e y – lo I want to show that, but also raise awareness about the taboos of i ncluding them in the struggle to rebuild” he continues.
This conversation is current as Somali women from Muna A h m e d O m e r who initiated the h a s h t a g JamhuuriyaddaRagga (which translates into The Men’s Republic), to Halimo Omar are raising awareness of the lack of representation of Somali women in Somali politics.
The stories of his characters he says are a metaphor to remind people of the struggle that Somalis went through to acquire their independence from colonial rule.
“I want to remind people through this story, that the blue flag wasn’t raised overnight, a fight preceded it and people gave everything to that struggle even their lives and inspire people today through that.” “Art has a power which is often under-estimated, it’s an amazing tool and we can use it to reframe our experiences and tell our stories in a different way” Ahmed says.
What next? Ahmed is currently developing another comic with some anticipation in his tone. The next series, The Guard is a sci-fi series based in a futuristic, sky-scrapper laden Mogadishu in 2045. “Xamar (a common nickname for Mogadishu) has healed from its trauma in this story and has really taken off.” This story has two protagonists, a young man called Aweys, and his guide Erasto. Aweys has the twin abilities to read minds, and move things with his mind, which for Ahmed is an expression of the capacity of the mind to bring worlds into being.
“We should imagine the future because if we don’t we will continue the cycle of the present and the past” he says. This work is a substrate of the now much more popular genre Afrofuturism in the wake of the much-acclaimed movie Black Panther.
Similar to other work in this genre, Ahmed marshals his broad imagination, to design a different kind of future for Somalia and Somalis and shows us that in this comic. “I’m talking here about characters and protagonists with the name Abdi, Leyla, Khadar, Mohammed and so on, do you get the picture.”