Ras‘ Ammar Nsoroma
Ras‘ Ammar Nsoroma is an artist with a portfolio that stretches from more than 100 outdoor murals to several indoor, public portraits, from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis. So, those who’ve seen even a small part of his work might be surprised to learn that his life as an artist began when he was just four years old.
Nsoroma can’t really recall a time when he couldn’t draw and paint. In his K-4 classroom at what was then 20th Street School (now Phillis Wheatley Elementary School), he drew a picture of a lion as he remembered seeing it the previous day on a field trip to the zoo. His teacher saw the sketch and was stunned. “People thought it was something different or special,” Nsoroma says. “Before that, I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was something anyone could do.”
Nsoroma was born in Milwaukee. For three years, he attended Bay View High School, which was the arts school for Milwaukee Public Schools at the time. He then was recruited with a number of his classmates to help form the first graduating class at Milwaukee High School of the Arts. After graduation, he studied primarily drawing and painting at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design for a few years, and then also took classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Nsoroma has been a full-time artist for more than 20 years, since about age 23. He tells the story of his first outdoor mural, when he was just 17. He and two of his friends saw a flyer stapled to a telephone pole about a community mural project. All three volunteered. Nsoroma says, “We came up with the concept and most of the design. We weren’t paid for it, but we all got art books when we were done. My friends threw their books away. I kept mine. It was a big, thick art history book. I kept it until it fell apart.”
Nsoroma had seen murals around the inner city of Milwaukee as he was growing up. “One of the mural artists was Reynaldo Hernandez. I was inspired a lot by his murals,” Nsoroma says. He also became active with an organization called the Inner City Arts Council, at 7th and North Avenue, when he was still a teenager. “I was very active with the Inner City Arts Council. I started working there when I was 18, as an artist intern, and then on the staff.”
Currently, Nsoroma is busy outside the studio, as a teacher with Artists Working in Education, with Upward Bound at Marquette during the summer, and with the UWM School of Continuing Education.
Nsoroma is as committed to sharing his passion for art with young people as he is to creating more of his own works. “When you learn skills like art and music, it builds a lot of confidence in the children,” Nsoroma says. “It develops creativity and genius. Without it, you can see how far back the children become.” That commitment to creating new artists in the community is just one of the reasons Nsoroma has been named a 2013 Black Excellence Award winner.