Painting the Decline of Mogadishu The Somali capital of Mogadishu -- the once-beautiful Indian Ocean port -- lies in ruin after years of chaos and war. One artist's paintings detail the years of deterioration.
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Painting the Decline of Mogadishu

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Painting the Decline of Mogadishu

Painting the Decline of Mogadishu

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Turns out the T-shirt artist is a man who can tell you something about what went wrong in Somalia. NPR's Gwen Thompkins visited his Mogadishu studio.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Every month, Abdul Cotter Awaiz Abdi(ph) writes the word beautiful Mogadishu in black paint on hundreds of ordinary gray T-shirts. He seems ordinary. He has an ordinary face, an ordinary nose. But Abdi's eyes have an usual depth of perception.

ABDUL COTTER AWAIZ ABDI: (Through translator) Due to a civil war, I decided to show the people another idea that Mogadishu was beautiful and to make the people remember that Mogadishu was once very beautiful.

THOMPKINS: Fittingly, Abdi calls himself and his business Happy Arts. But he's not slaphappy. He knows what the city looks like now.

COTTER AWAIZ ABDI: (Through translator) Mogadishu is not beautiful now because it was destroyed and there is trash everywhere.

THOMPKINS: Abdi has been working in secret to make a pictorial essay of what went wrong in his city.

COTTER AWAIZ ABDI: (Through translator) I (unintelligible) in beautiful Mogadishu. I was also recording all the civil war. And at the end of the civil war, if I am lucky (unintelligible) at that time, I will show the people how the people were killing each other and how it was going.

THOMPKINS: Once rival clans got to fighting, nothing was out of bounds. The art building is now in ruin, all shards and crumbles.

COTTER AWAIZ ABDI: (Through translator) When in 1990 there was a war between two main clans, Hawiye and Darod. Then that fighting was happening in this area, we left from the area. Then we came back in 1991 when Darod was ousted from the city and Hawiye was still (unintelligible) here. Then at that time there was another war between Hawiye itself. And at the end in 1995, it was bombed and it collapsed.

THOMPKINS: Abdi wants to get going.

COTTER AWAIZ ABDI: (Through translator) I get sad whenever I see the building because even now I am shocked. I don't come here mostly because I don't like to see my school collapsed. It makes me feel uncomfortable.

THOMPKINS: The next stop behind a row of corrugated metal shacks is, well, nothing. There's a tall tree and a spit of brown dirt not much wider than a game of hopscotch. This was where Abdi was born, in a house under this tree. The house was destroyed by artillery fire in 1991.


THOMPKINS: This is what the street sounds like today.


THOMPKINS: The Islamic Courts Union kicked out the warlords last year in the second battle of Mogadishu. They didn't know what to make of Happy Arts and so in the end they left Abdi alone. Now that Somalia's Transitional Government has come to power, Abdi says he hopes to one day mount an exhibition telling the world about his hometown.

COTTER AWAIZ ABDI: (Through translator) I (unintelligible) at the end because I saw Mogadishu when it was very beautiful, but my children see only the destruction. I wish also some time in their life they see Mogadishu very beautiful and (unintelligible).

THOMPKINS: Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Mogadishu.

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