What kind of art do you practice?
I am a writer. I write poetry, short stories, and am currently writing a screenplay. I am trying to get into non-creative writing as well with some journalism and opinion pieces. In addition, I am currently experimenting with music; I am learning to play the piano and am teaching myself music theory.
What inspired you to become a writer?
When I was eight I saw the HBO Brave New Voices documentary. There were all these kids doing slam poetry and spoken word and I thought it was so cool! I was like "I want to be just like these people!" So I started writing poetry and stories. I went through a lot when I was younger, and writing became a catharsis for me. Writing poetry and writing short stories became a method for me to release some of the stuff that I was going through, and it made me feel good to finish a piece.
How would you say art has impacted your community?
I’m Somali. I grew up listening to Somali music and reading Somali books. Poetry and the art of writing are huge parts of Somali culture and fundamental parts of Somali artistry. I grew up understanding that writing would enable me to continue the legacy of Somali poetry. And I am not alone; I see a lot of Somali youth using art, poetry, and writing as methods for explaining the trials that we as a community are dealing with. Overall, the legacy of Somali poetry is continuing to impact my community, and helping us express ourselves and engage with each other and others in meaningful ways. I am just really honored to be a part of that.
How have you engaged your community in your practice?
One specific example is when I was in the 9th grade, dealing with some really terrible microaggressions in a history class. I wrote and performed a poem about it. Following the performance and a discussion of what had happened in class, my teacher and I came together to address how the class’s curriculum was negatively impacting the black students. As a result of that (and I am still working on this with her today), we started creating a post-colonization African curriculum insert for the 9th grade World History class.
What inspires you?
Other people and their art! When I see people expressing themselves and being real and being vulnerable, that challenges me to ask “can I do that?” Can I be as real and authentic with myself as these other people are being themselves? Also, black women inspire me, Somali women in particular. Their resilience and their truth and their honesty inspires me. My mom inspires me. I think my mom my main inspiration in my life, she gives me a lot to live up to. I think marginalized people using their stories as ways to overcome the oppression that they face, that's really inspirational. For a long time, that's sort of what I wanted to do when I got older: teach kids how to use their art to stifle systems of oppression that cause creative barriers in their lives. I was taught that art is a powerful tool when was young, but if not for those people in my life who told me this, I would have never known. Everybody inspires me and I just want to continue that legacy of inspiration.
“Writing is a practice in knowing yourself, because if you’re being real with your writing there is no one to hide from other than the page.”
What has been your greatest joy as a writer?
It brings me joy when people tell me that they relate to what I’m saying or that what I’m saying helped them. I performed a song at an open mic, and afterwards, this girl came up to me and was like “Yo, I really needed to hear that. You really helped me realize where I am in my life, thank you for that.” I feel like that's a really cliche answer, but that's what makes me feel really empowered in my writing. It is a very self-involved art form. There is room for collaboration but often that doesn’t happen. Sometimes it can feel as though I am writing into a void. If I don’t share there is no reciprocation from the universe that tells me whether what I am doing is good or bad. Having the vulnerability and emotions that I’ve put out on stage be reciprocated by the people who have heard me has been one of my greatest joys as a writer. Another one of my greatest joys has been catharsis, and using writing as a tool to heal myself, deal with my issues, and to learn how to be better to myself. Writing is a practice in knowing yourself, because if you’re being real with your writing there is no one to hide from other than the page. Those have been my two greatest joys, impacting other people and healing myself.
I became familiar with Intermedia Arts when I was on the 2015 Be Heard slam team for Minnesota. That following year, I applied for the Intermedia Arts youth council, and following that I was a youth docent with the Creative CityMaking exhibit. Intermedia Arts intentionally creates space for different artists of marginalized identities to be their whole selves, and they also actively try to change systems using art. The creative city making exhibit really opened my eyes to how art can actually be applied to change and implement new ideas in systems. I had thought about it as an idea beforehand but I had never really been exposed to it in practice. I felt really safe and welcomed when I was on the youth council and also when I was an employee. Intermedia Arts is doing really cool things!
Kaaha is an artist and organizer, who uses writing as her main medium. She hopes to eventually help others use their art as a way to stifle systemic oppression, and that first means figuring out how to do that herself. She is inspired by the legacy of Somali Literature, the strong women she was raised by, and the experiences that shaped her. She is an eager high schooler looking to learn, create, and make change.