Alumna Ebony Iman Dallas Founds the Afrikanation Artists Organization

Ebony Iman Dallas (MFA Design 2009)View slideshow 

Since graduating from CCA just one year ago, Ebony Iman Dallas (MFA Design 2009) has already done an immense amount of work promoting social justice through art. Her biggest and most important effort has been the founding of Afrikanation Artists Organization, based in Hargeisa, Somaliland, which empowers artists by building a more grounded foundation for the arts in communities lacking resources or opportunities to do so themselves.

Dallas has always been interested in exploring ways to build human relationships and connections through art and design. Her past projects have included C.L.O.U.D. Speak 3000 (investigating the loss of indigenous languages in the United States) and literally connecting CCA's art and design buildings with ropes as part of a collective community-building effort.

The idea for Afrikanation Artists Organization stemmed from her CCA thesis project, which focused on unifying African immigrants, African Americans, and Afro-Caribbean people in the United States through art and design. "Economic, education, and health challenges disproportionately affect these populations," she says. "By joining minds, solutions can be created. I believe that methods do exist to exploit current systems to create positive change in society. For example we can use the interconnectedness of our world to share voices that often go unheard, and to create opportunities for empowerment where they did not exist previously.

"CCA's Graduate Program in Design does not limit itself to strictly-design courses. It forces students to think beyond the creation of new systems and objects, to the analysis of how they will affect our world in negative as well as positive ways."

Dallas was motivated to establish Afrikanation Artists Organization when she was in Hargeisa last winter visiting family. Although the region hasn't seen war in more than 20 years, the aftereffects of war continue to pose great challenges, including an astronomical unemployment rate (some reports say it has reached 85 percent). She hopes that her organization is the beginning of what will become an international network of artists and community supporters.

The unavailability of art supplies, limited opportunities to showcase and distribute artworks, and lack of educational opportunities in the arts are just some of the barriers that Afrikanation Artists Organization is working to overcome. Dallas is starting with public art workshops, and hopes that soon art will be an integral part of the country's public school curriculum. She observes that there are very few female artists in the region, and that this is partially due to the discomfort of learning in a male-dominated art world. She has several ideas that will help level the playing field and create an educational environment that is conducive to learning and excellence.

Dallas is also working on expanding the organization to countries throughout Africa, the Caribbean, and North America. "This will help to build cross-border relations as well as increase opportunities through partnerships built," she says. "We will create fair-trade economic-development opportunities by enabling online sales and working with individuals, organizations, and galleries internationally to showcase art.

"I believe that art has the power to change society because of its ability to reach the average person in an accessible way. Many people theorize and discuss social and global issues in a manner—and a medium—that is not understood by the majority of the people negatively affected. By educating as well as entertaining through diverse media, art provides an approachable platform that extends its reach to many. For example, Somali, the official language of Somalia, was not written until the 1970s. But through poetry, Somali history has been passed down orally from generation to generation and provided the people with a great foundation to build on. With the knowledge of a great past comes an irrevocable pride that poetry has preserved, even through periods of colonization and war."

With the help of Defne Beyce (MFA Design 2010), Dallas organized an art-supply collection box at CCA's San Francisco campus this past spring. The supplies were used for the youth art station at Afrikanation Artists Organization's Celebration of Art and Culture as well as public art workshops.

Basic art supplies, including paintbrushes, are largely unavailable in Somaliland. Everyone's help is needed to continue artist workshops there and begin art classes for at-risk youth and girls. Any support makes a huge difference! If you are interested in donating art supplies, please email ebonyiman@afrikanationartists.org.