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The Nine Passions of Yesomi Umolu

Meet the Twin Cities’ new go-to tastemaker

The Nine Passions of Yesomi Umolu
Photo by A. Brisson-Smith, Sidecar

1. Yesomi loves her passport. In the year prior to landing last summer at the Walker Art Center as a curatorial fellow, she had her passport stamped in Norway, Poland, Spain, and South Africa. Her globetrotting helped her relate to Minouk Lim, the cosmopolitan Korean artist whose American debut was orchestrated at the Walker with Yesomi’s assistance last spring. “It’s about migrant identity, moving between spaces,” she says of the exhibit, though she could be talking about herself.

2. Yesomi loves home: Nigeria. She left Lagos for London when she was nine, but she returns every year. “A hard balance,” she says of her childhood, which was spent split between two continents. “How do you keep both identities parallel?”    

3. Yesomi loves architecture—just not so much that of Minneapolis. “I had a visual meltdown,” she says of her first days here. “It felt too rational to look down the street and see clear road. In London, there’s no grid; the architecture just masses together.” She knows her buildings: for three years, she was a visiting critic and seminar tutor at London’s Bartlett School of Architecture.

4. Yesomi loves downtown Los Angeles. “I went there recently for the first time, looked around, and thought, ‘This is amazing!’”

5. Yesomi loves her boss. Sucking up? Maybe. But it’s no secret that Walker curator Siri Engberg has been behind some of the center’s best recent shows, including this year’s Lifelike, which Yesomi helped create. “Shows that are rigorous but also have an entrance point for people,” she says. “That’s really key.”

6. Yesomi loves Minneapolis. Okay, now she is sucking up. Sort of. “It’s been great being in a small town,” she says without condescension. “I get to know people and encounter them over and over again.” Her neighborhood? Uptown: “Where all the cool kids hang out—and frat boys.”

7. Yesomi loves neo soul. Her dad was a deejay, and the records scattered about her home were so tasteful—lots of Stevie Wonder—that she never rebelled against her parents’ music.

8. Yesomi loves the Tate Modern. Loves it like a high-school crush—which, for her, the London museum was. She spent her teens in an arts group there and claims that “a lot of my formative thinking happened in that space.”

9. Yesomi loves working with students. Yesomi loves working with students. She is jurying this month's annual show of work by the (mostly student) members of the Bloomington Theatre and Art Center. And for the "Sacred Space, Contested Terrain" exhibition at the University of Minnesota's Katherine E. Nash Gallery (ending this month), part of a curriculum of teaching, guest lectures, and seminars about the volatile intersection of sacred places and social conflict, she helped foster an unlikely collaboration amongst students in the art, architecture, and religious studies departments. "It was a stretch for the theology students," she says. "But they're interrogating bodies of knowledge, right? It's just like art."


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