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For the last two decades,Somalia’s capital city Mogadishu has been portrayed as a war-torn no-go zone devoid of any history or culture. However, the city has a long history that dates back to the 10th century when Arab and Persian traders began settling there. Historical documents indicate that the city was a traditional centre for Islam and an important hub for trade with communities along the Indian Ocean coastline for centuries. From the early part of the 20th century till the late1980s, Mogadishu was known as one of the prettiest and most cosmopolitan cities in Africa.
Mogadishu, or Xamar, as itis known locally, literally means “The Seat of the Shah” (from the Arabic Maq’adul Shah). When the famous Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta arrived in Mogadishu in 1331, he described it as “an exceedingly large city” where prosperous merchants sold the finest cloth, silver and gold jewellery. In 1871,Mogadishu came under control of the Omani Sultan of Zanzibar, and twenty years later, was leased to Italy, when it became the headquarters of Italian Somaliland until independence in 1960.
Development of Mogadishu to a modern metropolitan city continued under successive post-independence governments until the advent of the civil war in 1991, which saw various clans and factions fighting for control of the city. For the next two decades, bloody battles were fought on Mogadishu’s wide boulevards and in its historical quarters. Wars destroy cities, and Mogadishu is no exception. Everywhere, there are shells of once magnificent buildings that used to house government offices,museums, cinemas, hotels, mosques, cathedrals and libraries.
Mogadishu Then and Now is a photo exhibition that show-cases Somalia’s capital city in all its splendourprior to the civil war in 1991 and contrasts this with some of the devastationand destruction that can be seen in the city today. The main aim of the exhibition is to allow present and future generations of Somalis to learn abouttheir rich heritage so that they can work towards restoring and preserving it.It is hoped that the exhibition will also inform future urban planning and design initiatives, especially now that the international community is renewing and strengthening its efforts to restore peace and stability in Somalia.
Mogadishu Then and Now wasconceived by Ms. Rasna Warah, a Kenyan writer and photo journalist, who teamed up with Mohammud Diriye, the former curator of the Mogadishu Museum, and Ismail Osman, a US-based activist and telecommunications engineer, who helped organize and curate the exhibition. It was first shown in Istanbul during the Conference on Somalia organized by the Turkish Government from 31 May to 1 June 2012. Most of the photos in the exhibition are from the collection of Mr. Diriye, who has carefully and meticulously preserved them for years, while others are from Ms.Warah’s visit to Mogadishu in November 2011. The exhibition will culminate in a book that will be published in English, Somali and Turkish.
The Mogadishu Then and Now exhibition will be held at the Alliance Française in Nairobi from 4th to 24thJune 2012. It is dedicated to Mogadishu’s children and youth, who have never known lasting peace, and is sponsored by Yildiz Holding, a group of companies based in Turkey.
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