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Asmaa Jama with Gouled Ahmed

Except this time nothing returns from the ashes

Asmaa Jama with Gouled Ahmed

Except this time nothing returns from the ashes

Asmaa Jama and Gouled Ahmed, Except this time nothing returns from the Ashes (2023). Installation view, Spike Island, Bristol. Commissioned by Spike Island. Courtesy the artists. Photograph by Dan Weill



This collaboration between Asmaa Jama and Gouled Ahmed explores self-portraiture, memory and the archive. The exhibition is inspired by African photography studios; places of self-expression that are at once political and historical, fictional and intimate.

Central to the exhibition is a new film commission, Except this time nothing returns from the ashes. Shot on location in Addis Ababa, the film follows the ghostly, glitchy presence of those who exist at the margins of the city. Combining poetry and music, the film explores how national canons are constructed and can be corrupted.

Stemming from the artists’ interactions with their families’ photographic collections and archives, the film opens a portal to memory, for those who otherwise would be forgotten. For both Jama and Gouled, self-portraiture becomes an act of resisting erasure, demonstrating the potential of photography and the archive to remember.

The film is surrounded by a colourful octagonal wall. Decorated with cut-outs of geometric designs, reminiscent of the patterns found in the film, this structure is a homage to East Africa’s built environment.

In the back perimeter, the installation Ash is our inheritance comprises a poem written directly on the wall, a line of charcoal, and a black and white chequered vinyl floor that evokes the interiors of African photography studios. In the text, Jama explores the notion of the aftermath, and how to understand the past when all that is left is ash and ruins.


Asmaa Jama is a Somali artist, poet and filmmaker based in Bristol. As a poet and writer, Jama has been commended for the Brunel African Poetry Prize, shortlisted for the Wasafiri Writing Prize, the New Poets Prize and James Berry Poetry prize, and longlisted in the National Poetry Competition. Their work has been published in magazines and journals such as Poetry Review, The Good Journal, Ambit, Ballast and Magma, and translated into French, German, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish and Swahili. Their writing has been commissioned by Arnolfini (Bristol), Hayward Gallery (London) and Ifa gallery (Brussels). Jama was a Cave Canem Fellow 2021.

As a filmmaker, Jama was commissioned by BBC Arts to make the interactive film Before We Disappear (2021), and by Bristol Old Vic to make The Season of Burning Things (2021), which was screened at the 17th Venice Biennale of Architecture (2021), as part of 100 Ways to say We. Both films were made with artist and costume designer Gouled Ahmed, as part of an ongoing creative collaboration. Jama is a Film London FLAMIN Fellow (2022) and a resident artist at Somerset House Studios.


Gouled Abdishakour Ahmed is an artist, stylist, costume designer and writer. Their work explores themes of memory, belonging and futurity using self-portraiture and self-fashioning as a tool to challenge traumatic histories and interrogate how structures of power have created meaning in how the ‘other’ is seen and understood in the Horn of Africa.

They collaborated with Asmaa Jama on Before We Disappear, an interactive moving image piece commissioned by BBC Arts, and The Season of Burning Things, an experimental film commissioned by Bristol Old Vic (2021).

Abdishakour Ahmed features in the documentary The Ones Who Keep Walkingcommissioned by Johnnie Walker, and their work has been shown widely at venues such as V&A Museum, London (2022); Alliance Ethio-Francaise, Addis Ababa (2021); Beursschouwburg, Brussels (2021); Northstar Church of the Arts, Durham (2019); ZOMA Museum, Addis Ababa (2018); Guramayle Art Center, Addis Ababa (2018); Asni Art Gallery, Addis Ababa (2018); Lela Art Gallery, Addis Ababa (2018); and Africa Center, London (2017).

Ahmed graduated with a degree in History from Bard College, New York (2015) and received the Prince Claud Fund’s Seed Awards (2022) and the African Cultural Fund’s Visual Arts Grant, Bamako, Mali (2020). Ahmed, is also an artist-in-residence, at Black Rock Senegal (2022).

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Except this time nothing comes back from the ashes is commissioned by Spike Island, Bristol, and is part of the West of England Visual Arts Alliance programme, supported by Arts Council England.

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