If you visit the Rochester Art Center and walk through Somali-American artist Ayub Haji Omar’s collection of work, don’t be surprised if you see a young man there eager to discuss the art.
It might be Omar.
Omar’s show, “Mercy to Mankind” officially opens Wednesday. He has been an active participant in the installation the last few weeks and said he hopes to be around from time to time after the opening.
“It’s nice when the art speaks for itself,” Omar said. “But there’s nothing better than having the artist in the room to talk about the work, their background and their process.”
Some of the messages in Omar’s work are clear — words quoted from the Koran are on some of the paintings.
His theme is tolerance and understanding and incorporated themes from Islam about understanding and showing mercy to other people.
“Just because people are a little different from us doesn’t mean we should despise them,” he said.
Omar’s parents are both from Somalia. His mother grew up in Italy and his father served in the U.S. Navy. Omar’s family came to Rochester when he was a year old. He recalls seeing his mother, her friends and his aunt occasionally draw stares or looks in public. As he got older, Omar realized it was the hijab, traditional Muslim headwear, that drew the looks.
Omar decided to draw on his faith, its words and symbols to create a show to cultivate understanding of Islam and explore the similarities people of all faiths share.
The exhibition at the Rochester Art Center will be up through March 14. It’s the second show for the young artist, who received a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant for advancing artists last year.
Omar said art museums are a good place to explore what people across all cultures and faith have in common and to learn about other cultures.
“It’s a beautiful place to have a dialog,” he said.