Mogadishu — Since al-Shabaab was ousted from Mogadishu in August 2011, activities that were once banned, such as art and sports, have begun to return to the city.
Artists finally feel able to express themselves in the Somali capital, after many were forced underground during the civil war.
Shik Shik Arts, one of the largest art studios in Mogadishu, was closed during the rule of the Islamic Courts Union and al-Shabaab, but is now experiencing renewed life, a sign of cultural resurgence as security in the city improves.
Founded by their father in 1960, the art studio now belongs to five brothers who create different types of art. Located in a busy intersection in the Kilometre 4 neighbourhood in Mogadishu's Hodan District, the shop also trains people in art and design.
Sabahi sat with co-owner Mohamed Hussein Sidow to discuss Somali culture and how the improving security situation is affecting the art scene in Somalia.
Sabahi: What do arts and crafts contribute to the culture and history of Somalia?
Mohamed Hussein Sidow: Arts and crafts are the two most important things to history and culture because if these two advance, then culture also increases. Art will teach you what people of the past did or used.
The art we create is rooted in culture. My paternal grandmother Fadumo Abdo Salah was an artist and taught my father. My grandmother made various kinds of art, such as clothes for us to wear when we were little. She made sweaters and hats for us by hand. I can say that we inherited this art from our grandmother Fadumo.
Sabahi: When did you take over your father's business?
Sidow: My father left Mogadishu in the middle of 2006. We actually handled the business before that, as our father was old, but he still supervised the work.
Sabahi: Aside from Shik Shik Arts, are there other art studios in Somalia?
Sidow: Yes, there are other art studios in Mogadishu owned by the people who were taught by my father. I believe that art in Somalia will increase if there is peace. Everything is dependent on peace and there can be no art without peace.
Sabahi: Where do your biggest art orders come from?
Sidow: Our biggest orders come from various business people and agencies that want hand-drawn pictures. We also get orders from Somali business people who came back from England, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries that have high populations of Somalis. They order traditional and cultural artefacts.
We also design store signs and sports shirts, hats and clothes imprinted with our flag to be worn by both males and females. We also make pictures of traditional and cultural artefacts of our people such as weapons (spears, shields and arrows), traditional dress and other things they used, as well as many kinds of animals.
Sabahi: Do you plan to expand Shik Shik Arts in the future?
Sidow: We currently operate two studios in Mogadishu, and we want to open a third in the beginning of 2013. We also want to improve our art and create books that contain Somali cultural artefacts so the new generation can have a place to learn about their traditions.
Sabahi: What happened to the shop after the Somali central government collapsed in 1991?
Sidow: It went through very difficult times, and everyone can understand the difficulties that can face someone who has been working in the midst of all the violence in Mogadishu without going anywhere else for even a day. At that time, the store was not like it is now; it was very small.
At times we were forced to paint pictures in our house when we could not come to the studio due to conflicts. There was never a time that we stopped making art. We worked through every problem and situation and my father has never worked in anything else but art. This is what he knew and what he stuck with.
Sabahi: Tell us about the worst time you encountered.
Sidow: Every situation had its impact, but the worst was in 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union ruled many parts of the country, including Mogadishu. At the time, they ordered us to close Shik Shik Arts studio, and they told us that the pictures we made were a sin that was forbidden in Islam.
Sabahi: What did you do?
Sidow: When I say that Shik Shik Arts studio was closed, it does not mean that the studio doors were completely shut. We were banned from drawing anything and instead we wrote on billboard signs and store signs.
Sabahi: When did you resume drawing?
Sidow: We resumed creating our regular art in the beginning of 2007 when the Islamic Courts Union was removed and the Ethiopian and transitional government forces came in.
Sabahi: What made you stay in the country during the war?
Sidow: Allah decides who leaves, and our father was the reason we stayed in our country. He encouraged us to continue with our art and to remain in our country.
Young Somalis have encountered many problems when they attempt to go abroad. They are perishing in the seas every day. Keeping that in mind, it would have been stupid to expose ourselves to all those difficulties.
Sabahi: How do you view the current state of Mogadishu?
Sidow: The situation in Mogadishu is improving day after day. We are really happy with the new government and hope that it will be able to do a lot about the security situation and to restore general civil service.