2018 #46

Cornered Energies

by Mustafa Saeed

Mustafa toys with unspeakable truths of his home-country Somaliland, tactfully laying technicolour graphics over imagery to develop mysterious counter-narratives.


I moved with my family to Hargeisa in Somaliland when I was fourteen. There was never too much to do for young people, so music became my obsession. I was fascinated by cassette booklets and soon learnt to mimic the album art they carried with a small point-and-shoot camera. I would save up my lunch money to visit internet cafes where I would illegally torrent, catch up with the latest releases and download free versions of Photoshop or other software. Looking back, this time of my life has had a long-lasting impact on my practice. Graphic design was certainly my gateway into photography, but I am still establishing my relationship with other media. I love exploring new tools and new methods of digital manipulation.


Social media is accessible in many places in Somaliland, so I feel that photography is widespread, even though those that engage with it are often lacking in formal training or education. We do not yet have an established platform for “art” photography. When I’m creating work I try to imagine how it will be received by someone who does not have an extensive knowledge of art. I do not feel that I have a distinct style of shooting necessarily, but I am drawn to themes of freedom, youth culture and social justice. My visuals are inspired by Somali pop culture which mostly revolves around songs and poetry.


My latest endeavour is an ongoing staged project that depicts some of the issues we’re facing in Somaliland today. I focus on the “unspeakable” – things that cannot be publicly discussed in society – be it local superstitious practices that contradict Islamic religious beliefs, or how the blind patriotism of citizens is used in the self-interest of our leaders. I create portraits in which faces are obscured by textiles or digital collage. This strategy provides a sense of anonymity; my subjects could be anyone. Bold colour is also present in my work, allowing me to inject energy and dynamism. I aim to capture the vivid palette of Somaliland: neon advertisements, home decor and women’s clothing.

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Mustafa Saeed

Hargeisa, Somaliland, SO

MG 5108

Mustafa Saeed

Hargeisa, Somaliland, SO

Marrying poetic symbolism with socio-political critique, Mustafa Saeed (b. 1989, Somaliland) explores issues of war and conflict. A self-taught graphic designer and photographer, Saeed has spent the past seven years experimenting with digital manipulation, creating vibrant silhouettes which draw on the vivid palette of his home country. Rich textiles used in traditional costumes, garish home decor and neon advertisements are juxtaposed against grey, concrete landscapes. In 2014, he participated in the Addis Foto Fest, in Ethiopia, where he exhibited the series Home in Me. This project portrayed the transition he underwent upon leaving Saudi Arabia at the age of thirteen to return to Somalia.

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