Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Change Observer

About
Submissions
Contact


Departments

Audio
Bibliography
Case Studies
Collections
Dialogues
Essays
Event-Aspen
Event-Bellagio
Event-Education
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
Video


Topics

Advertising
Aid
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Media
Motion Design
Museums
Nature
Obituary
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public Art
Religion
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Volunteerism
Water


Comments Posted 08.25.10 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Project

Somali Documentary Project


William Underhill

Abdi Roble, Huda Quran School, Columbus, OH, 2004

When photographer Abdi Roble witnessed the mass flight of his fellow Somalis he knew he must help. In the 1990s tens of thousands were fleeing their homeland to escape a vicious civil war, and many were reaching America where Roble had already settled. “I looked at myself and thought: you have a roll of film and a camera: this can be your philanthropy.” His plan: to create a record of the experiences of his people at a critical time in their history, a gesture that would help to ease the pain of loss and migration.

The result is a unique portrait of a community, possibly the first attempt in history to capture the process of migration and resettlement while it’s still under way. Since launching the Somali Documentary Project in 2003, Roble has taken more than 100,000 photographs showing every aspect of Somali migrant life, whether riding the bus, studying the Quran, celebrating a wedding or shopping in a local Somali-run store in Minneapolis. Settings range from the butcher’s shop to the mosque; from the kitchen to the classroom.

It’s an undertaking of epic scale. Bitter conflict continues in Somalia — Roble makes a point of excluding its divisive politics from the project — and at least a million Somalis are now thought to be living outside their homeland. America’s largest Somali community, Minneapolis, numbers up to 100,000 people, while Columbus, Ohio, where Roble lives, is home to some 40,000. Many are still trapped in the refugee camps of Kenya.

In the search for material, Roble has traveled not only across America but also to Europe and Kenya. To supplement his pictures, he has enlisted Ohio-based writer Doug Rutledge, who has carried out thousands of interviews which will be used as captions or stored to provide a lasting chronicle. Most are eager to help. Says Roble: “Every individual has a story to tell especially those who you encounter here in America, but they also want to share those stories so that they can become one collective story.”

But the project aims to be much more than an archive. Roble, who came to America as a cash-strapped immigrant in 1989, believes it can also help to break down barriers between the incomers and the host community. With money raised from a range of non-profits as well as donations from individuals Somalis, he has staged exhibitions and lectures across America. “Fear is about the unknown and one thing we emphasize is the importance of at least getting people to talk to each other. We all have so much in common. Every parent just wants a safe neighborhood and a good education for their children.”

For Roble, it’s an absorbing task with no obvious end while the migration continues. Over the last four years, he has worked full-time on the project. With Routledge, he has already produced a book, The Somali Diaspora published in 2008, and next year his pictures will form part of exhibitions in New York and Washington, sponsored by the Open Societies Foundation. And his ambitions go still further. In time, Roble hopes to establish a museum, probably in Columbus or Minneapolis, dedicated to the diaspora, a permanent memorial to lasting exile.
Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Heartland


Gendered Arrangements: India


This Is Flint, Michigan


State of the Commons


Flies in Urinals: The Value of Design Disruptions



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

William Underhill is a writer and editor based in Oxford, England, from where he reports regularly on politics, business and technology for Newsweek. His work has also appeared in a wide range of other newspapers and magazines including The Economist, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS