Mohamed ORR: Artist, Fashion and Somali Refugee

Mohamed Malim Refugee Stories

I’m the youngest of 9 in my family. We were at the park and I was told “Pack up and leave” and we got on the shuttle bus to the airport and get on the flight. I came to the US when I was 9 years old. It was very different, we came in May. I recall landing at the airport, and when we landed, somebody pointed out to a man standing in the middle and said “That’s your father”. It’s my first time seeing my father. My first time ever. I’d never even seen a picture of him.

When I arrived in the U.S. The culture was different. There was certainly a language barrier, we spoke no English when we came. The food was different, the weather was different. The day-to-day lifestyle was different. What everyone felt in the beginning. Looking back, I just feel like it was adapting to where I was living, adapting to a new life. The weather was one of the biggest shocks – I’d never seen snow when I first came, so that was a crazy experience. It was unreal, I was young, seeing snow for the first time.

In this moment in life, some of the stereotypes refugees face are different to each culture – there are stereotypes specific to each culture and ethnicity, and there are stigmas that are attached to every ethnicity obviously. Every race has their own stigmas. We need to educate the youth about refugees. If not, we’ll pay the price for it. If you don’t invest in that then there’s going to be somebody else that’s going to do it. Again, as an artist, I feel like it’s my responsibility to present my art and showcase it to the youth to show them this message – granted it’s a message that’s based on my beliefs and morals, but to show them that I am a refugee – I am still a refugee… No, I am not ashamed of being a refugee, not the least bit. My day to day life is based on ORR. Being a refugee is the start and the finish other than religion and family. As far as doubts and embarrassment go, I put it on a pedestal that the world can see. It is a name that is the front cover and the back cover of my story.

Faith is the beginning and the end for me. After that comes family and after that comes ORR, in that order. The reason I say faith is because that’s the biggest success for me. Having faith is my belief – I already succeeded. I use that to start my day and to end my day. As an artist – I’m not necessarily sure that’s what I am, but just to give a title for what I do – I feel like there is some duty that I must complete. There are some responsibilities that you must take care of, like self-expression on one hand. On the other hand, expressing the things that are dear to me, values and morals that I have within me through art and the medium of art. Yes, there is a weight on my shoulder.

Art has been something I was exposed to at a very young age. A lot of colors, a lot of sculptures, a lot of architecture and buildings, it’s very vibrant – it’s full. There’s not enough space in India, so I feel like I was exposed to art at a very young age. And as the years followed, I used to paint growing up and I was never good at school. I do art right now, but it was just something that was there for me. And looking back everybody has a calling and everybody has a sense of belonging and this was my belonging.  ORR is the name that I used to sign in my paintings 9 years ago. It stands for Original Royal Refugee. It didn’t come easy, it took a lot of extensive thinking. Everything that I created has a deeper meaning. Everything has a direction, a start, and a finish, and it’s far more than the canvas and the paint, far more than the fabric that I used. I used it as a platform to illustrate a message.

Overall, the people who come through refugee programs or people who recently came to the states. My advice into them is to stick together, to your family, to your country, don’t stray away from where everybody is. It’s going to be difficult at first, stay with the people that you were brought up with, don’t stray away to things that are not you, things that you were not before you came here. You could easily get influenced and change in the US – good or bad. This country has a lot to offer, a lot of opportunities, seek the good. I feel like that’s the only advice I could give. Stick with your roots, stick with who you were before you came here and don’t ever change – just be original.

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