Awa Mally is a Togolese photographer based in Minneapolis. Born in Togo, she immigrated with her family to Minnesota in 2003. Always having an interest in arts and culture, she was involved in many youth programs growing up despite not having much support. She was inspired to take on her passion when she joined the Walker Art Center’s teen arts program at the age of 16 — her first art opportunity outside of school. In 2016, she began photographing for a social justice group she started with her peers, and she has been pursuing photography since. As a self-taught photographer, she’s accomplished many things such as working for local organizations like the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Walker Art Center. Mally has been featured in Vice Magazine and shot the single cover for global musician Afro B. Her ultimate goal in life is to create programs for youth and marginalized people to gain more access to arts and technology, and to build bridges between cultures and communities.
Mally’s theme for It’s the People is identity and empowerment. She is highlighting a young African artist who is breaking conventional narratives by pursuing a professional career in art. Her goal is to spotlight cultural hybrids whose visible creativity empowers those around them to embrace their own identities and heritage.
As the world is shifting, generational differences are becoming vaster; this results in children of immigrants being challenged with confronting their cultural expectations while exploring the new career possibilities available to them in the United States.
Mally’s chosen subject for this project is Papa Mbye. Papa is a 22-year-old interdisciplinary artist with a focus on visual art and music. He resides in North Minneapolis with his Senegalese and Gambian family. Inspired by the birds his mother drew to calm him, Papa picked up drawing at age three. Unfortunately, through judgment and lack of faith, Papa stopped drawing in the 9th grade, because he was convinced that art would not last as a viable profession — a common misconception within the immigrant community. Papa had to overcome the doubts from his family and peers to follow his heart. When Papa is experiencing mental blocks and mental health problems, he turns to drawing to keep him grounded. It enables him to create things he can’t find in the present world. Since this decision to pursue art, Papa has gained great success as an artist and community member, teaching workshops at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, working as a caricature artist for 5 to 10 on Hennepin community events and participating in group art shows at New Rules North, MCAD, Public Functionary and a solo art exhibit at Obsidian Arts.