This Toronto artist uses sci-fi and space to tell her story of growing up Somali


Monday July 16, 2018  “Growing up, Riya Jama loved the Harry Potter books. But as she worked her way through the series, she started wondering why there were no Somali witches or wizards in a world where it seemed like anything was possible. Jama turned to her father, who asked her a question that changed the course of her creative life: “Why would a woman who doesn’t look like you represent you?”

Now thirty-three, the Toronto-based writer, photographer and mixed-media artist has been representing people like herself in her work for over a decade. She identifies as a diasporic visual storyteller, aiming her lens at East Africa. Jama never really knew how to describe her art until she was invited to an Afrofuturism conference in New York. Credited as the artistic philosophy that shaped Marvel’s Black Panther, Afrofuturism reclaims black identity through different aspects of creativity.

Jama’s first solo show, Riyadii Farxiyo (which translates to “dreams of Farhiya” in Somali) is a culmination of mixed-media pieces based on her recurring dreams. It incorporates found photos of Somali girls—some morphed into cyborgs—superimposed on images of space. Each piece is named after a Somali woman in Jama’s life, with one exception. To pay homage to her father’s influence, Jama named one of her pieces Bilan—her father’s favourite female name. “I wanted this exhibit to be a love letter to little black girls who don’t ever feel seen,” she says.

Riyadii Farxiyo runs until Sept. 1 at Gallery 44. Here, Jama discusses some of her favourite pieces:


Named after Jama’s mother and biggest cheerleader, this image is based on a recurring dream Jama had of a young girl being watched over by her guardian. She says she identifies most with this piece and it was the first in the series to be finished.“It’s hard for my mental demons to win when my cheerleaders are stronger,” she says.


This one is named after Jama’s paternal grandmother. Jama says she initially wanted to make the girl’s hijab (this style is known as jilbab) blue, like the Somali flag, but she went with pink because it’s her grandmother’s favourite colour. The hijab is a frequent feature in Jama’s work—in Riyadii Farxiyo, she tried to focus entirely on visible Muslimahs (Muslim women). “If I, a non-hijabi Muslimah, didn’t feel seen, I can’t image how a hijabi feels.”


While Jama says her art is for everyone, she wants her work to be particularly accessible to young black girls (and children in general). “They need to see it more than adults,” she says. “I didn’t have this, and I didn’t know that it could exist.”

Hidden Gabar Yar

In Western media, Jama is used to seeing the hijab presented in an oppressive way. “I wanted this exhibit to represent an affirmation for when I was younger, when I was starving for representation because everywhere I looked—even in sci-fi—no one looked like me.”

Hoyoo Universe

In Hoyoo Universe, Jama wanted to recreate the birth of the galaxy. “There’s something poetic about making a Black woman the mother of the universe,” she says.

Fanged Gabar

This piece represents Jama’s attempt to understand herself as an individual. In Somalia, the majority of the population is Muslim. As a non-hijabi, Jama says her Muslim identity is often overlooked within the black community, while her black identity is overlooked by other Muslims. She says she’s in a “limbo of intersection.”

Guardian of Xiddigaha

To reflect the vividness of her dreams, she wanted each image to look natural while also being otherworldly. “I’m obsessed with making art surreal, but also real,” Jama says.


  1. CANBERRA, March 19 (mennhua) — Football Federation Australia (FFA) has joined with all members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Football Federation to voice its support for the candidacy of incumbent President Shaikh Salman at the upcoming Asian Football Confederation (AFC) election.

  2. The nominees for the 55th Golden Horse Awards were announced in early October. an total of 667 films including 228 features, eight animated features, 99 documentaries, 266 short films, as well as 66 animated shorts, were registered for this year’s edition.

  3. Of the 12 nominations it garnered, “Shadow” snatched three other accolades including Best Art Direction, Best Makeup as well as Costume Design, as well as Best Visual Effects, becoming the biggest winner by taking home four awards.

  4. Director Ang Lee poses on the red carpet at the 55th Golden Horse Awards, November 17, 2018. /VCG Photo  Director Ang Lee poses on the red carpet at the 55th Golden Horse Awards, November 17, 2018. /VCG Photo

  5. Co-chairing the meeting with the Chinese premier, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose country holds the rotating ASEAN chairmanship this year, said that the vision will chart the course for the future ASEAN-China strategic partnership.

  6. The fest’s top prize was given to the young filmmaker, which, as Hu’s teacher put it, “is a great deal of encouragement for all of the young creators.” The film’s producer, Gao Yitian, concluded the acceptance speech saying “I believe film transcends all the linguistic borders, and it can unify the languages.”

  7. Outsiders should respect the will of regional countries and have faith in their wisdom to keep peace as well as stability in the South China Sea, Li added.

  8. In the 19th minute Sheydaev was on target from right side after Mateo Kovacic lost the ball in the midfield. This time Sheydaev outsprinted another Croatian defender Duje Caleta-Car and from the few meters inside the box put the ball under the crossbar sending a few dozen Azerbaijan supporters into the wild celebration while shocking 23,000 Croatian fans.

  9. ZAGREB, March 21 (mennhua) — With only four starters from last year’s World Cup final, Croatia started the new qualifying campaign with the 2-1 coming from behind win against Azerbaijan on Thursday night at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb.

  10. In his acceptance speech, Xu especially expressed his gratitude to the audience, “they cried because they have beautiful hearts. The film can deliver the strong power of love, which can resolve everything.” The movie, which raked in 3.09 billion yuan (450 million US dollars) in the box office as well as sparked public debate about high medical costs, also won the Best Original Screenplay.

  11. Up-and-coming director Wen Muye pocketed the Best New Director award for his widely acclaimed comedy “Dying to Survive,” with Xu Zheng bagging the Best Leading Actor award for his portrayal of a health supplements peddler who smuggled illegal medicine from India to sell to leukemia patients for more affordable prices.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here