MOGADISHU, SOMALIA - Fardowsa Hussien is one of the few professional female photographers in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The 25-year-old’s courage in telling stories through photography is a source of inspiration to women and girls in Somalia.

As Fardowsa moves around the city looking for stories to capture through her camera lens, she also becomes an attraction to curious onlookers.

Fardowsa said that when people see her carrying a camera, they say to her, "Shame on you. This is not the work of a Somali lady. You are tarnishing your reputation." But when she meets with her female friends, they usually say, "Please, go ahead — you are doing a great job," since they understand her focus is on telling women-related stories.

Last month's launch of the Somali Arts Foundation, the first contemporary arts institution in Somalia, offered Fardowsa and other artists a much-needed space to show their works. The foundation seeks to promote creative industries in the country, while igniting critical discourse on what it means to be a Somali.

Fardowsa said that the launch of the SAF and subsequent exhibition of her pictures was an awesome experience, as it now provides her and others with an opportunity to display their work to a large audience and also highlight female photographers who are producing amazing works of art.

Founder's dream

Sagal Ali is the founder of the SAF, and for her it is a lifelong dream come true.

Sagal said she launched the institution to work with all Somalis, wherever they are, especially those within the country who have the talent. She said local artists haven't had centers like this one to show their talent, and the foundation will provide spaces where they can upgrade their skills.

Artists say their work has a positive influence on society and can help rebuild Somalia, which for decades has been wracked by chaos, civil strife and war.

Salman Madow, a lecturer at Somali National University specializing in modern arts and photography, said when he talks about art's storytelling impact, he has to talk about its significance in the country. Through the nation's history, it is photography that has exposed the harsh reality of what was happening.

As for photographer Hussien, she wants to continue to break new ground and inspire more Somali women to follow in her footsteps.