Numbi Arts, a London based Somali organisation founded by Kinsi Abdulleh, is on a mission to establish the first Somali museum in the United Kingdom. For over three decades, Numbi Arts has been at the forefront of archiving British Somali heritage and has become a significant part of the East London cultural scene. Last year, the organization lost its residency and is currently crowd-funding in order to secure a permanent home for their work.
Numbi Arts’ influence on the Somali community in the UK has been notable. Their last project “Coming Here, Being Here: Archiving British Somali presence in the East End of London” aimed to engage with, gather and share the stories of people in the Somali community, and to also train people to design and deliver the workshops and events that make up the archival process. On the significance of this project, Kinsi states that “our last project ‘Coming Here, Being Here’ has become the catalyst for us in creating the Somali Museum in the UK”.
As of December 2019, an estimated 99,000 people living in the UK were born in Somalia according to the Office for National Statistics. However, there is a considerable number of ethnic Somalis who were born in the UK and other countries which this figure does not include. This makes the UK home to the largest Somali community in Europe.
Unknown to most, Somalis have a rich history in the UK and have been present in the region for over a century. The first Somali immigrants are said to have settled in the UK in the late 19th century in port cities such as Cardiff, Liverpool and London. These immigrant were mostly seamen and merchants who left British Somaliland to make a better living for themselves. The need for a space that would educate Somalis on their rich history is therefore important. “Somali’s in the UK have a unique culture and heritage that is very different from any other Somali diasporic groups. This is based on the blend of two identities of Britishness and Somaliness. By us showcasing this in the Museum, it allows people to better understand themselves, previous generations, and another Somalis internationally”, Kinsi says.
Somalis historically have relied heavily on oral history and oral literature to capture their culture and traditions. This is why it would be quite difficult to find tangible objects and materials of cultural, religious and historical importance from Somalia that have been preserved. The creation of a Somali Museum would ensure that Somalis in the UK would have a place to visualize their history and culture that has been so well documented by Numbi Arts.
[Photo credit: Nadyah Aissa]