The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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October 19, 2025 to April 19, 2026 | Leir Gallery, Klein Kenealy Gallery, Ramp Gallery, Project Space

Uman

My work offers an escape. Whether it’s the night sky, the sun, or a cow in a field, I want it to feel good for the audience. And the first audience is me. I’ve always felt like if I was to make great art, it would have to come from deep within me and be very honest. My work is its own activism, just painting my life, existing, living. I don’t need to say too much.[1] —Uman

Uman’s practice, which spans painting, works on paper, murals, sculpture, and glass, is about color that is felt and content that is experienced. Under the influence of memories, dreams, and change, her visual language is intuitive, multilayered, adaptable, and free; neither exclusively abstract nor metaphorical, it proliferates in the indeterminate and transcendent. Informed by Uman’s remembrances of her homeland, her diasporic experience in Europe and the US, as well as a love for East African textiles and transcontinental fashion, nineteenth-century French painting and visionary abstraction, and the natural world, her subject matter elicits the flamboyant fabrics worn by women in the Somali bazaars, the slanted flourishes of Arabic calligraphy taught in the madrasas, and the vast countryside of Kenya and upstate New York. Her all-over compositions in oil, acrylic, spray paint, and oil stick, which sometimes also incorporate collage and sewing, are predominantly square, on average four to nine feet, and enclosed in hand painted frames. Her imagery dances with animated hues and phantasmagoric patterns on unprimed canvas that favor singular colors, reds, yellows, greens, and blues, spirals and grids, pendants and all-seeing eyes, doodles and scribbles, circles and stars in abundance, as well as whimsical creatures and native botany. Working on many pieces simultaneously, she builds her pictorial arrangements with varied mark making methods, using dry brushes and even her fingers for example, resulting in surface treatments that unsettle the line between painting and drawing. She chooses pigments instinctually for their emotional and optical power. Often referring to her works as self-portraits, they are a perfect synthesis of realism and magic. Fusing art history with autobiography and spirituality with reality, Uman’s work is deeply personal, fueled by drama and survival, journeying and community, and penultimately the boundless possibility of being an artist.

Uman was born in 1980 in Mogadishu, Somalia. She left the country with her family at age nine to escape the Somali Civil War, settling with extended relatives in Mombasa, Kenya. She would often visit her eldest aunt in Turkana, northern Kenya, one of the oldest landscapes on the planet. Its distinctive geography is a persistent theme. As a child Uman was always drawing but it was never encouraged because of her strict Muslim upbringing. At thirteen she moved to Denmark to live with an aunt. It was during a trip to Vienna at sixteen that she was formally introduced to the world of art. Uman moved to Paris to study fashion, but around 2000, came to New York City with aspirations to be a visual artist. With the support of other artists and close friends, who provided her not only with their encouragement but also with places to make work, a downtown rooftop and community garden for instance, she sold her paintings on the street and in Union Square. Her first big break came in the 2010s when she began to be included in group shows at downtown galleries. Then in 2015 she mounted her first solo show at White Columns. Around 2010, she decided to leave the city for Roseboom, a small rural town in Upstate New York. Its open sky, sprawling hills, valleys, and ponds, as well as her many farm animals have become recurring characters in the work.

This presentation, which is the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition, will include new and recent paintings, works on paper and a site-specific mural. It will be on view at The Aldrich from October 18, 2025 to April 19, 2026 and will encompass the entirety of the museum’s first floor galleries. It will be accompanied by the artist’s first museum catalogue with an essay by the curator. This exhibition is curated by Amy Smith-Stewart, Chief Curator.


[1] Uman quoted in Meka Boyle, “Uman’s Studio in Upstate New York is a Portal to a Kaleidoscopic World,” Elephant, June 16, 2023, https://elephant.art/umans-stu....



Top image: Uman, Zigzag Rolled on A Blunt, 2023 ©Uman. Courtesy of the artist and Nicola Vassell Gallery. Photo: Lance Brewer