Muhubo’s Somali art inspires women to learn a centuries-old craft 

Brendan Rees

 Muhubo Sulieman began learning the art of traditional Somali weaving techniques from her mother at the age of five.

The Carlton resident, who came to Australia from Somalia in 2003, has continued her passion for weaving and now creates everything from colourful handmade rugs, bags and wall decorations using natural grasses and tree branches, as well as recycled materials. 

“These designs hold a key element in Somali history, being the only handmade craft that’s been handed down by generations, allowing women to express themselves through their craftsmanship,” she said.

One of her more mesmerising and treasured creations is an Aqal Somali, a domed-shaped traditional Somali hut adorned with weavings that was once used as a portable home by nomadic communities during pre-colonial times.

The Aqal was displayed at the Arts House in North Melbourne as part of a project called Portage, after she finished the stunning creation in 2019.

But she now finds herself in search of the perfect home for the masterpiece in what she hoped would be a platform to showcase traditional Somali craft to a wider audience while preserving her cultural heritage.

“I was able to store it at Carlton Primary after the project had ended as it was too large for me to keep in my house,” she said.

“I’m going to hopefully find a place that wants it displayed or put it in storage.”

Muhubo said while not ideal, the Aqal was now being stored at her home, which she hoped would be a short-term measure until it could be celebrated by the community in a better location.

“I’ve since been adding to it, making it look as traditional and authentic as possible,” she said.

“It represents home, family, and togetherness. The Aqal is a home built by the community and gifted to new families.”

Muhubo, who by day works in sewing and fashion design, hosts traditional weaving workshops at the Community Grocer in Carlton, the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, and the Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre.

She has also worked with the Australian Tapestry Workshop at MPavilion, as well as Space2b and the Social Studio with the latter allowing her to connect her weaving and sewing together.

For those aspiring to learn the technique or wanting to add some colour to their fashion accessories or decorate their homes, she said the crafts were unique and “will last you for decades”. 

“Their colours will not only attract the wandering eye but will go with any pattern.” •

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