School of Social Work

A Platform for Building Change - the Art of Muhsana Ali

Artist Muhsana Ali taking photographsSenegal-based artist Muhsana Ali will speak about her creative place making and community art practice, including the Mart Community Project in Mart, Texas, on Thursday, October 30. The presentation will take place at 4:30-6 p.m., with a reception to follow, at the University of Southern Maine’s Wishcamper Center in Portland. Her work will be on exhibit in the Wishcamper Lobby.

Muhsana Ali is a Pew Fellowship and Fulbright Scholar recipient who holds a BFA and MFA in Art and Art Education, and received a License degree from L’Universite de Saint Denis in France. She has exhibited her work and created community projects throughout Europe, Africa, and the United States. Her artistic mediums include painting, video, installation, and mosaic murals.

Ali was selected for presentation at the 2002 Dakar Biennale and the FESPACO film festival (2001). Her most recent exhibits are a series of photographs of African American residents of Mart, Texas dressed in traditional African clothing at the Martin Art Gallery, Muhlenberg Collage in Allentown, PA in 2012 and the Dakar Biennale in 2014.

Her artistic skill and talent are matched by her ability to bring diverse groups of people together through creative projects and a shared passion to revitalize their environment and build change.

The presentation and exhibition is sponsored by USM’s School of Social Work and the Muskie School of Public Service.

Mart, TX, community art project, Muhsana AliMore about the Mart Community Project

(depicted at 20:08 in the video Chambless” – the story of the town and the project)

USM Social Work professor, Paula Gerstenblatt, Ph.D., is the founder and former Director of the Mart Community Project located in rural Mart, Texas – a community development initiative and nationally-recognized model of a reciprocal community-university partnership that has received numerous grants, including two National Endowment of the Arts design awards.

With funding from the Dulaney Foundation, in 2010, the Mart Community Project brought in visiting artists from Senegal – Muhsana Ali and Amadou Kan Sy. They spent two summers in Mart creating public art projects. Ali trained many Mart residents in the techniques of Senegalese glass painting and mosaic murals. In addition to her mosaic murals and sculpture in Mart, Ali led art workshops for residents of all ages and coordinated cultural events for the community.

Mart, TX community art projectHaving come to a town that was racially divided and on the verge of economic collapse, Ali discovered that some of the deep complex feelings from this community were a result of simply not having a relationship with people who look different than themselves. In the video, one community member remarked about the positive effects of the project, “Everyone has something to contribute… Art is color blind – it doesn’t recognize a person by their color, it recognizes them by their talent – and everybody has a talent.”

Mart, TX mural, Muhsana AliAli and Kan Sy’s work in Mart culminated in a large mosaic mural at the town’s historic football field, depicting its history and significance to Mart residents. Ali said, “It was much more than just creating murals, it was about interacting with people, learning from people about the history of Mart.” Kan Sy added, “Art is a platform for exchanging communication, for building change for a community.”

In the summer of 2011, Mart’s formerly abandoned Chambless football field was reopened to the public to become a community hub, and a “homecoming reunion” was held where community members, including former residents, celebrated their memories of football games past, and memories of living in Mart.

Ali has continued to visit the town – and her more recent exhibit of Mart’s African American residents is not only a testimony to her artistic ability, it has instilled a sense of pride among her subjects, and inspired them to explore their identity and ancestry.  Her expression through various media embodies the concept of artistic excellence in community art practice.