Artist Hibaaq Ibrahim, who is known for her botanical-themed murals, sits in her former studio in northeast Minneapolis in May 2023. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

With a distinctive style that infuses public spaces with the energy of colorful abstract flowers, plants and nature, Hibaaq Ibrahim has created more than 20 murals that can be found throughout the Twin Cities, including at Flava Cafe, Eastside Food Co-op and the Metro Transit Lake Street/Midtown Station.

“I feel like a lot of my art plays on botanicals, but also architecture because I’m interested in the intersection of nature, natural design and human design,” said Ibrahim, a commercial and residential muralist and designer. “I think so much of what we design is based off of nature.” 

Earlier this year, Ibrahim collaborated with local jewelry maker Larissa Loden on three sets of bold, eye-catching earrings with intricate details of beetles, mushrooms and geometric design. She also painted a mural at the Larissa Loden store in St. Paul.

And she’s beginning to explore woodworking in her latest creation, Night Walk, a 3D-effect, otherworldly forest. It’s currently showing in the In Other Miles: 2023 PF Studios Exhibition at Public Functionary, an exhibition and community art space in Northeast Minneapolis. The exhibition features new work by 19 artists currently in the PF Studios program.

At the exhibition’s opening night on October 14, Ibrahim talked about the challenge of making Night Walk, including creating tight curves with woodworking tools for aquatic plants and ensuring the structural soundness of the work.

“I like learning and not knowing what I’m doing yet. That’s the great thing about being an artist —

 being a perpetual student,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim is also known as Moon Juice Art, a name that came to her after waking up from a nap when she was trying to come up with a name for Instagram. 

A mural by Hibaaq Ibrahim at the Family Tree Clinic. Credit: Courtesy of Hibaaq Ibrahim

“When I first started painting, almost all of my paintings had moons in them. And I’m obsessed with juice – orange juice and apple juice, and watermelon juice is just my favorite. Then when I woke up one day, moon juice was just in my head,” she said. “I feel like it’s how I come up with a lot of the ideas for murals — it’s like I was processing it in my sleep. Sometimes I’ll wake up with an image of the mural in my head and frantically scribble it.” 

Finding solace in art, discovering a point of view amidst tragedy

Ibrahim’s parents left Somalia in the late 1980s due to the political instability and conflict. She was born in Sweden, and the family moved to California when she was 3. They eventually found their way to Minnesota, where she spent the majority of her childhood in Lakeville.  

Her mom, who studied botany in college, passed on her love of nature to Ibrahim at a young age.

“I’ve always had a fondness for botanicals because of my mom. We enjoyed taking walks together and looking at flowers. She’s always been interested in plants and pointed out different leaves and details like that, and taught me to respect nature,” said Ibrahim.

“When I look back on my childhood, I was always into art. I would turn all of my assignments into art projects…but I didn’t take my first painting class until I was 17 and fell in love with it.”

She continued to paint as a hobby, but majored in philosophy at the College at St. Benedict in St Joseph, Minn. A lack of diversity at the school and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) made a traditional learning environment difficult for her. Moving back to Minneapolis, she worked with kids and teenagers for almost eight years as a part of Hennepin County Library’s Urban 4-H Club.

“I’m an experiential learner. And I feel like school doesn’t always provide that, which is probably why I was good at youth work and loved it because I understood that perspective,” she said.

A mural by Hibaaq Ibrahim at Flava Cafe. Credit: Courtesy of Hibaaq Ibrahim

Working from home during the pandemic and after the murder of George Floyd, her interest in murals began when she started seeing more people doing them outside — and specifically Black and brown people, Ibrahim said.

“I started doing [murals] as a therapeutic thing. With a more flexible work schedule, I found myself out and about more, going to community events and seeing who I can connect with,” she said. “Then I started to see open calls during that time for artists to volunteer their time to work on murals.”

Ibrahim became involved with Creatives After Curfew, which started during this time. The group creates art that contributes to social justice movements and community healing. Ibrahim then worked on a mural with some of the teenagers she was mentoring in the 4-H Club at Smoke in the Pit and Southside Food and Deli.

“I combined my youth work and art. I learned how to teach murals even though I was still kind of learning. And now, I’ve taught over seven different projects with youth-led murals,” Ibrahim said. She continues to participate in community-based mural projects in addition to her commercial work.

As immigrants, her parents were initially confused by her decision to go all in on the arts. 

“My parents weren’t sure if I could make a living doing it. My husband encouraged me to pursue it because he could see what I could do and its commercial potential,” she said. “Somali shops aren’t usually super dressed up, and more focused on community building. My generation might see a space like this and want to beautify it.”

She’s found part of this is due to how different generations tend to view art.

“In many cultures, regardless of background, younger generations tend to value art as a profession and older generations might not understand how someone could make a living painting walls,” she said.

Creating a community for emerging BIPOC artists

Ibrahim joined Public Functionary’s PF Studios in spring of 2022. The program supports emerging artists — who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of color, queer, trans and gender fluid — with affordable studio space, mentorship, workshops and a community of practice. 

“Hibaaq’s work is playful, colorful and expansive. You experience a child-like nostalgia and a hopefulness for the future,” said Leslie Barlow, PF Studios director and founder of the program.

Artwork by Hibaaq Ibrahim is displayed at a show at the Public Functionary on October 14, 2023. Credit: Anna Nguyen | Sahan Journal

Public Functionary was founded in 2012 as a 2500-square-foot open floor plan art space in Northeast Minneapolis before moving to the Northrup King Building in 2019. Since then, it’s expanded to two galleries and performance spaces, six studios and a cafe.

Since the PF Studios program started in 2019, it’s grown from one initial studio space to six studio spaces, and from nine artists in residence to over 25 artists participating in the program. 

“As a working artist, I understand the need for affordable studio space. I wanted to create a place for BIPOC artists to build relationships as they move through their practices,” said Barlow. “It’s important to create these spaces for ourselves.”

The program also has opened access to the Northrup King Building, which historically was inaccessible to artists of color just starting their careers, Barlow said. 

“PF Studios is so unique. It’s for us, by us,” said Tricia Heuring, Public Functionary artistic director and senior curator. “There’s so much emerging talent. I’m excited by the disciplines that you can see [In Other Miles] from the artists such as photography, sculpture and commercial spaces.”

The exhibition will mark Ibrahim’s first and last show with PF Studios, since she’ll be moving to a larger space in the Northrup King Building with PF Studios artist Maiya Lea Hartman. The studio will have a small woodworking area.

Artist Hibaaq Ibrahim, second from right, talks to guests at an art show at the Public Functionary on October 14, 2023. One of her pieces is displayed in the background. Credit: Anna Nguyen | Sahan Journal

“Most of my friends have their own practice — their own artist voice. I want to make things not financially prompted and create just for myself,” Ibrahim said, who plans to explore designing functional art furniture next. 

In the meantime, she plans to expand Night Walk for ConFluence: A Cultured Multiverse, a two day event at Public Functionary on November 18-19 that celebrates art, sci-fi, futurisms and fantasy focused on the BIPOC community.

Moon Juice Murals

For an interactive map to find Ibrahim’s murals:

Instagram: @moonjuiceart

In Other Miles: 2023 PF Studios Exhibition

In Other Miles: 2023 PF Studios Exhibition

An annual showcase exhibition featuring the PF Studios community of artists, including Alexandra Beaumont, Ashley Koudou, Arnée Martin, BakiBakiBaki Porter, Delaney Keshena, Elyse Lodermeier, Genie Hien Tran, Godfree Manley-Spain, Hibaaq Ibrahim, Jelani Ellis, Leeya Rose Jackson, Leon Valencia Currie, Maiya Lea Hartman, Margaret Vergara, Nailah Taman, Noi, nouf saleh, Silent Fox and Venus X.

This year it is curated by Cameron Patricia Downey, an anti-disciplinary artist born and raised in North Minneapolis. PF Studios artist Patricio De Lara’s exhibition Headbomb runs now through Nov. 4 in Studio 247.

Where: Northrup King Building, 500 Jackson St NE Studio 144, Minneapolis.

When:  Now through Nov. 4, Thursday-Saturday 12 pm-6 pm. On Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. there will be an artist Conversation with Godfree Manley-Spain, Genie Hien Tran, Leeya Rose Jackson, and Delaney Keshena, who will share more about the exhibit.

Cost: Free

Anna is a freelance writer and healthcare marketer. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Beer Dabbler and local community magazines.