Editor’s note: This story is one of an occasional series of pieces about community artists in Milwaukee.
Ras ‘Ammar Nsoroma, 49, knew the second he picked up a pen and paper that he could be an artist. “Before I was even in kindergarten I realized I had some sort of artistic ability,” Nsoroma said. “My pre-k class went on a trip to the zoo and I sketched a lion by memory; the teacher was amazed because I was only 4 years old.”
Since then, Nsoroma has created more than 100 murals that are displayed in Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis. Nsoroma also does paintings and portraits, but has focused more on sculptures as his career has progressed.
“My favorite piece that I’ve ever created was based on the story of Joshua Glover and Caroline Quarles,” Nsoroma said. “These were two enslaved Africans that escaped from Missouri and their voyage to freedom brought them to the Milwaukee area.”
Nsoroma’s piece is located along the Marquette interchange near the McKinley Ave. exit and entrance. “I enjoyed creating this piece so much because of its visibility and deeper meaning behind it,” he said. “I just appreciate the beauty in art and how it affects people.”
According to Nsoroma, his work focuses on the “spiritual, cultural and political consciousness of the African Diaspora.” He has worked as a visual artist with Express Yourself Milwaukee since 2014.
Nsoroma was born in Milwaukee and has lived in the city for most of his life. He graduated from Milwaukee High School of the Arts and attended the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design as well as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Nsoroma also is passionate about biking. “I initially started biking to build up muscle in my legs and that turned into me doing it all the time, no matter what the weather brings,” he said. He started a local chapter of an organization called Red Bike & Green four years ago. The group is a collective of black urban cyclists seeking to improve the physical and mental health of African–Americans by creating a black bike culture, according to Nsoroma.
“Each year we’ve added more people to our group,” he said. “Everyone that is currently a part of the organization is trying to spread the word so that more African-Americans in the community join.”
Nsoroma credits artist Evelyn Patricia Terry, owner of the Fine and Folk Art Gallery, with advancing his career. “I met Ms. Terry when I was only a teenager and she helped me become the artist I am today,” he said. “She has a back room in her gallery dedicated to my artwork and she is someone that has appreciated my work from day one.”
Terry, 68, said, “Ammar has had a very strong work ethic since the day I met him. You give him the tools to do a project and he will make sure that everything is perfect.”
Nsoroma also credits Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Caravaggio for influencing his art. “Looking at artwork from the best and studying them helped me to be the artist that I am today,” he said.