Refugee artist to present play about Somali civil war

November 27, 2018

Artist Ifrah Mansour will present a one-woman, multimedia play based on her experiences as a child during the Somali civil war at 7 p.m. Friday at the Rochester Art Center.

In the play, “How to Have Fun in a Civil War,” Mansour revisits her experiences as a young girl during the Somali civil war of 1991. She confronts violence with humor, and intends to provide a voice for the refugee stories of children.

Mansour was born in Saudi Arabia. When her family returned to Somalia, they were caught up in the civil war. They fled to a refugee camp in Kenya, and when Ifrah was 7 years old, the family came to the United States and settled in Dallas.

Eventually, Mansour moved to Minneapolis, and after high school intended to go to college to become a kindergarten teacher. However, she found herself drawn to performance art, and “How to Have Fun in a Civil War” is the latest of her projects.

The play weaves together puppetry, poetry, video and stories taken from interviews with members of the Somali community.

Despite the potentially dark subject matter, Mansour declines to project despair on stage.

“Life includes humor, and I want to capture that as well as the difficult, painful and unjust things around us,” she said. “To me, it’s more reflective of the human condition: One minute we’re laughing, the next we’re extremely sad.”

Refugees need to show all sides of their personalities, she said. “Basically, I want to portray on the stage how I want to be seen in the world.”

Mansour has performed sold-out shows of “How to Have Fun in a Civil War” at the Guthrie Theatre and the Children’s Theatre Company. She has also performed at the Minnesota History Center, the Minnesota State Fair and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

She’s coming to Rochester in part because Sheila Dickinson, the center’s artistic director, has been working with the Somali community in the Twin Cities.

“She’s part of a collective, Soomaal House of Art in Minneapolis,” Dickinson said. The art center has received a grant to bring an exhibition of Somali art to Rochester in late 2019 or 2020, Dickinson said. “So she’ll be back,” she said of Mansour.

“How to Have Fun in a Civil War” will be followed by a discussion with the artist. The play is appropriate for ages 6 and older.

Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for children; tickets are available in advance through rochesterartcenter.org.

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