'Trauma is inherited and we can’t heal unless we learn'

8:48 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

Ifrah Mansour was five years old when civil war broke out in Somalia, in 1991. Her family had just returned to Mogadishu from Saudi Arabia, where she was born.

An estimated 350,000 people died by 1992 of disease, starvation and the conflict that followed the overthrow of Siad Barre's military regime. Hundreds of thousands ended up fleeing the country, including Mansour's family, who sought shelter in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp until they emigrated to the US in 1998, eventually settling in Minneapolis.

Today, 33-year old Mansour, a playwright, performer and visual artist, is one of the Twin Cities’ most vibrant creatives. The softly spoken petite woman is best known for her play, How to Have Fun in a Civil War, which she has performed across the US since 2015. The play is an expression of how childhood can still flourish in the midst of brutal hardship and disruption - turning painful family history into artistic creation.

The seven-year-old main character, played by Mansour, recalls the moments of light relief that existed alongside the fear and uncertainty. In one scene she pretends to eat dirt and stuff her nose with cigarette butts, the way she did when she was a child.

She brings other characters to life through impersonations, reenacting the way her mother would intricately braid her hair, or how she slept all day as an escape from reality.
Much of her work - on stage, in galleries, exhibitions, and using video - attempts to capture the complexity of the refugee experience. One of her most recent productions, My Aqal, involves setting up a replica of a traditional Somali nomadic hut made of thatch, which is used as a space to host performances and pop-up events on the themes of displacement.

As part of the roaming show, which she has so far taken to New York, Minnesota and Michigan, Mansour also runs workshops teaching people how to build an aqal with their own hands, with the aim of forging connections with the current global refugee crisis.

MEE caught up with Mansour before one of her performances in Minneapolis to talk about her aspirations for both her work and for refugees around the world.

You can read the interview here.

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