Connection/Isolation: Soomaal Fellowship showcases pandemic work of two emerging artists

Connection/Isolation: Soomaal Fellowship showcases pandemic work of two emerging artists

Published November 29th, 2022 by Bridget Kranz

Exhibitions informed deeply by the pandemic – one centered on isolation and the other on connection – on view at Augsburg Art Galleries


It felt like a different reality in early 2020, when artists Khadija Charif and Yasmin Yassin began their fellowships through Soomaal House of Art, a Somali artist collective in Seward. 

Both were just starting to explore ideas for solo shows at Augsburg University when the pandemic arrived and they were forced to isolate – in addition, Yassin had just begun a pregnancy. After two years, their fellowship exhibitions are now on view at the Augsburg Art Galleries, both deeply informed by what the two artists experienced during quarantine. 

As a photographer, Yassin turned the camera on her own experience to recreate the feeling of journeying toward motherhood while isolating in her apartment. Charif explored the idea of the stranger, a source of connection taken away during the pandemic. 

Their Soomaal Fellowship exhibitions are now on view through December 14 and both artists will be present on Sunday, December 4, from 2 to 4 pm for a gallery tour and discussion of their work. We sat down with them ahead of the viewing to learn more about the inspiration behind their fellowship showcase. 


Installation view of Yasmin Yassin's Should Be Good Times. Photo courtesy of Augsburg Art Galleries.


Should Be Good Times: A journey through pregnancy during quarantine

Photographer Yasmin Yassin’s show, Should Be Good Times, takes viewers on a physical journey through a womb-like space in an exploration of her own journey through pregnancy. 

Visitors move through a series of photographs hung from the ceiling, many of them obscured in some way, whether physically taken through a curtain or edited after to blur their subject. 

“When I was in quarantine and experiencing this journey to motherhood, every day felt like the same day. A lot of my notes from the time feel very obscure,” says Yassin. “I was on this journey, but I didn’t know where I was going. I was envisioning a future, but I didn’t know what it looked like.”

Should be Good Times is in the Christensen Gallery, located in Augsburg’s busy student center. The gallery is typically visible as soon as you walk in, a row of glass windows inviting people to investigate it from the hallway. Yassin covered up the windows in black paper, welcoming people to instead enter to see what’s inside, beckoned in by a warm light. Visitors discover the gallery and leave the bustle of the student union to enter an intimate world, one they get to temporarily share with the artist.


Installation view of Yasmin Yassin's Should Be Good Times. Photo courtesy of Augsburg Art Galleries.


The space is filled with color, pattern, and references to Yassin’s heritage – including the shaash, a textile worn by mothers in Somali culture, on the back of most photographs. In many ways, the space mimics both a womb and Yassin’s apartment during quarantine. 

“I thought, ‘What if you have to go in and experience the exhibit by using your body and moving through it?’” says Yassin. “You start at the beginning of this hallway-like gallery space and go all the way down, but you have to move through the pieces as well, and it gets narrower as you go. I wanted to provide that darkness and enclosure, to try and recreate the feeling of spending all that time in my apartment.”

During quarantine, she noted, her baby was enclosed inside of her, and she was enclosed inside of her apartment. Now gallery visitors get the opportunity to be enclosed inside Yassin’s experience, but with enough obscurity to also reflect on their own. 



Installation view of Khadija Charif's Strangers of My Sight – In Truth and In Trial. Photo courtesy of Augsburg Art Galleries.


Strangers of My Sight – In Truth and In Trial: Exploring strangers without and within

Connection and isolation – two sides of the same coin, and each show inevitably speaks to both concepts through a different core inspiration.  

Artist and poet Khadija Charif’s work is an interesting companion to Should Be Good Times. Khadija focused on connection during and beyond the pandemic when creating an exhibition that includes photography, poetry, and an interactive space for people to sit and talk.

“There were a ton of ideas I wanted to play with, and I allowed myself to have a childlike curiosity,” Charif says of her exploration through the fellowship. “Ultimately, this curiosity led me to one of the things that has continuously brought me an overflow of joy – the kindness, love, and short companionship that strangers provide.”

During the pandemic, Charif added, we all had a heightened awareness of strangers – how many people were in a space with us, how we were all facing a public health crisis and a new fear. Isolation also took away many of those passing interactions with strangers.

Hidden behind a curtain at the back of the gallery is a private space meant for connecting with another person – a table, two chairs, and a set of cards titled “In Truth and in Trial,” which bear a series of quotes, phrases, and questions for visitors to explore.


Installation view of Khadija Charif's Strangers of My Sight – In Truth and In Trial. Photo by the author.


“Art for me is about exploration – trial and error, experimentation, reaching out to uncharted territories, reaching out to others through mediums that aren’t often used as a means of communication, whether that’s painting, photography, or the written word,” says Charif. 

“What I hope is that this space allows others to explore conversations with a stranger – grab someone you’d like to know, invite them to the table and ask questions. Not the light questions that bore us but the questions that excite us and allow us to deconstruct the barriers we naturally set when we meet strangers.”

Both the questions and the show as a whole are also meant as an opportunity to explore the strangeness within ourselves – answer the questions on your own and write down your thoughts in a blank book intended for that purpose.


Ongoing artistic partnership between Soomaal House and Augsburg 

Augsburg University made sense as a partner to host the Soomaal Fellowship exhibitions. The campus is just a few blocks from Soomaal House, and the fellowship brings practicing artists to campus, livening the gallery spaces with their work.

“It’s this beautiful exchange, giving artists a year to use some of the resources we have here,” says Jenny Wheatley, coordinator of galleries and exhibitions at Augsburg University. “They also come and talk with our classes, their ideas are elevated, and we get to engage with them.”

Fellowship artists also receive support through Soomaal House, including studio visits and access to technical assistance and guidance, creating a joint support system with both the collective and the university. Wheatley and fellow Auggies were active participants in hanging shows and participated as a group in Charif’s interactive In Truth and in Trial.

“Khadija had students line up, then she handed out the questions and gave us 10 minutes to connect,” says Wheatley. “I was part of it – she paired me with a fellow teacher that I didn’t know well, and we got into these very deep conversations.”

In addition to being an opportunity for the campus to connect and engage with art, the fellowship exhibitions are an opportunity for visitors from outside Augsburg to view the work of emerging and established artists in a unique setting, as solo shows within a college campus, creating a dedicated space for each artist’s unique voice. 

The Soomaal Fellowship partnership with Augsburg will continue with new fellows showcasing their work on the campus every 18 months. ◼︎


Installation view of Khadija Charif's Strangers of My Sight – In Truth and In Trial. Photo courtesy of Augsburg Art Galleries.


Yasmin Yassin's Should Be Good Times is on view at Christensen Gallery, 720 22nd Ave S.

Khadija Charif's Strangers of My Sight – in Truth and in Trial is on view at Gage Gallery, 610 22nd Ave S.

The Christensen Gallery is in the Christensen Center, which is open to the public. The Gage Gallery is in the Oren Gateway Conference Center, which is closed to the public, but which will be open December 4 during the show walkthrough event. 

Gallery tour will take place from 2 to 4 pm on December 4, with both artists present. Both shows are on view through December 14. 

For more on Soomaal House of Art, visit their website or follow them on Instagram @soomaalhouse.

Banner image of Yasmin Yassin's installation by the author.

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