Responsible for My Happiness: Ladan Abdi

LADAN ABDI was born in Salem, OR, raised in Corvallis, and is currently living in Portland. Her artwork represents her love for her culture, religion, nature, and warm colors. Ladan’s hope is that others can relate to her experiences and hardships through her writing. She has performed poetry for events, fundraisers, and art shows in the Portland metro area. In 2018, her artwork will be featured in the new Virginia Garcia Hospital in Beaverton, OR. Check out Ladan’s striking poem in the Xagaa 2018 issue.

Portrait photo credit to Nathira K. Osman, @nkophotography on Instagram.


What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I don’t think there’s such a thing as perfect happiness. Everything doesn’t need to be perfect so you can be happy. I don’t think there’s true perfect happiness in this world, because it’s temporary…That’s why I really need to work harder [to be] closer to Allah, so I can find myself  in jannah, inshallah. Accomplishing my dreams would make me really happy. I’d like to sell more paintings, show and sell my films, and inshallah publish my own book. I think what would make me the most happy is being in a good place with mental health, working for myself as a full-time artist, and seeing my family financially secure.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I say “like” and “um” a lot. I’m really embarrassed about it, when I catch it on video. I’m trying really hard to say [them] less.

What is your favorite childhood memory?
My favorite childhood memory is when my aunt and father taught me how to ride a bike. I really loved being outside as a kid…they were so patient with me…I also used to love rollerblading down my block. I used to race people and win all the time, I even learned some tricks.

At what point in your life did you find yourself exploring your talent?
I’ve been doing art ever since I could hold  a pen. I got my first art set for my 10th birthday…I started exploring watercolor and pastels and I fell in love. I took art in middle school, and all four years of high school. I think my favorite medium is acrylic paint because I love mixing the colors to show how I feel. I also love how vibrant acrylic paint can be, and how you can go over it, and change it. In high school, I didn’t have much freedom to explore what I wanted to draw. I began to teach myself how to draw and paint Black Muslim women, and I found art more fulfilling.

I started creatively writing [when] I was 15, and I used to write fictional stories. I used [writing] as an escape and imagined by life as another person. I [also] used to write poems in high school about my life. After college, I picked it up again.

This year, I’ve been writing more creative non-fiction. I have been using my art to express and find myself again. Art has been helping me with [my] healing journey. It’s even given me the courage to stop denying my mental health issues, and to face them. My writing has been very personal and honest because I think that’s the best way I can heal: when I’m living in my own truth.

In what mood do you usually create your work?
I create in all types of moods. I have been creating lately at a time when I’m the most overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed and it’s been helping a lot. It helps me cope with my anxiety and depression. This year, I started an art page that I’m really proud of called Flowers for Ladan on Instagram. It ended up being a space where I could show my art, talk about my self-love journey, and address my struggles with mental health. I am learning to love myself by accepting my flaws, and I’ve realized [the flaws are] what make me the most beautiful.

People have been so sweet to me and the support has been overwhelming at times. I feel like I have a responsibility now to inspire. People…share with me the changes I’ve helped them make. I’ve seen them share their journey with me, I’m in awe. They really show me so much love, when I get really honest about uncomfortable things, and I’m truly very grateful…I hope to translate [the page] into a brand and make a website soon.

What or who inspires you as an artist/author?
For painting inspiration, I love Van Gogh, Picasso, and Frida Kahlo. Authors that inspire me are Maya Angelou, Alex Elle, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin.

Does your work usually carry a message?
Yes. My paintings are peaceful and vibrant. My favorite paintings have been of Black Muslims that show different sides of themselves. Unlike how the media portrays them, the message is clear: she’s more than just her headscarf.

What is your spirit animal? Why?
A sloth. I’m super slow and run on my time, and I love my rest. People have told me I’m a very calm and peaceful person. I wonder if a sloth is the same?

What is your greatest fear?
[To fail to] express my gratitude towards those I love.

Losing art, again. I haven’t felt this content in a while.

Straying further away from Allah, you really have to work hard every day at your iman.

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?
On my art page, I asked people who follow what they with they [had known during] their twenties. Someone [responded]: I’m responsible for my happiness. I had to take a second to think about this, and I felt kind of sad that I never reminded myself of this. It’s very true, and I feel guilty that I’m not the one making myself happy sometimes.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I never really wanted to be an artist…I just [recently] started telling people that I’m an artist, and it feels weird, but freeing! I’m learning film, which is a talent I’ve also wanted to have. I hope to have my next film project, “Dear 20s,” out soon, inshallah.

What does home mean to you?
I’ve always called Hargeisa home. It’s a city that both sides of my family grew up in, and it’s a place where I felt the most myself. Home is where you feel the most comfortable and are surrounded by love. It hurts to grow up in a country that hates your existence; even though I was born in America, I don’t feel American. Even though I felt at home in Hargeisa, I was treated like I wasn’t one of them, and it really reminds me I don’t belong anywhere. I appreciate all the opportunities I was given in America, and I’m grateful I was able to grow up here. But it makes me sad sometime, and makes me question my identity.

Which living person do you admire?
The person that I admire the most is cliche, but it’s my mom. Her resilience is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. She’s ambitious, funny, and smart. She doesn’t stay mad too long, or sad too long, and knows how to keep positive. I’ve always admired that quality in her. She talks to anyone, and says whatever she wants…she doesn’t care about other people’s opinions of her. I know I have those [qualities] in me, but sometimes I can be a little too shy. She has inspired me to be my true self at all times, in all places.

What is your proudest achievement?
I don’t think I’ve gotten there? My best is coming!

One cool thing was to see my artwork hang in a health clinic near my house. The clinic has mainly immigrants and refugees and people are able to relate to [my art], and see themselves in it…I’m really grateful.


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