Exhibit Highlights Traditional Arts By Refugees and New Immigrants

Mar 6, 2014

A giant woven carpet, intricate hand-made lace, brilliantly colored baskets and textiles are some of the traditional arts featured at a new exhibition in Hartford.

Sadiyo Aden holds her crochet work.
Credit Lynne Williamson

"New Lives/New England" highlights the creative works of refugee and immigrant artists living in Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. The project features pieces by Bosnian, Somali and Somali Bantu refugees, also work by artists from the Assyrian and Burmese Karen communities.  The exhibit is taking place at the Institute for Community Research.

WNPR's Diane Orson visited the exhibit and spoke with Sadiyo Aden, a Somali Bantu who does textile arts -- knitting and embroidery.

Sadiyo Aden: The Somali Bantu is a minority group where they have been enslaved from Central and Western Africa and was taken to Somalia in the 1990s, I think, by Arab traders and became Muslims. And afterwards they have been having a lot problems with slavery through the Somali people. So in 1992, when the civil war broke out, they fleed from Somalia and came Kenya. And applied for resettlement in the United States.

Diane Orson: Let’s talk a little about the Somali Bantu arts. Maybe you could describe what we’re looking at here.

Here this could be a bedspread. It’s a white sheet embroidered with yarn. Bright colors! They like bright colors, so they decorate this on the bed, on the table, on the ceiling, all over the house. Because back there we didn’t have all this technology. And all the technology was this – to decorate the houses. Whether it’s a wedding or whether for other occasions.

A Bosnian carpet on display.
Credit Lynne Williamson
A soft-sided traditional basket underway.
Credit Lynne Williamson

The colors of this basket are beautiful. They’re green and purple and yellow…

Yes. She was from Somalia, as I am, and her name is Fatuma. When she was back in Somalia, she used to use the Sisal tree to make basket[s]. But when she came here, she decided to change it.

When you do this kind of traditional crochet and some of these arts, does it help you feel connected to your community?

Yes, it makes me feel like I’m back in there. Because it reminds me what we used to there and what we’re doing here. Kind of connected.

Do you get together with other women sometimes to do this?

We used to have a sewing circle with Lynne that brought almost six to seven different cultural groups to here and we teach each other.

Lynne Williamson: I'm Lynne Williamson and I direct the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts program here at the Institute for Community Research.

Can you talk a little bit more, Lynne, about the sewing circle?

Yes, we have since 2007, had a group of women who are extraordinary needle workers. They meet to share ideas, share techniques. In the process of working on their art forms, whatever they may be, the women have a fellowship together I think that helps him. The reasons why they came here are usually very difficult cultural reasons, political reasons. And the sewing circle I think has been instrumental in helping them feel like they’re fitting in and that their art forms are seen and respected by other people in the community. And then they feel like they contribute to our society and our neighborhoods.

"New Lives/New England" continues through mid-April.