Amina Baha: Curating a Life of Creativity and Compassion
For Amina Baha, art is first and foremost an avenue to access her culture and her community.
Since fleeing Afghanistan as a young girl during the Soviet invasion, Amina felt distanced and disconnected from her roots.
“I feel like I was always in search of how my parents and my grandparents lived,” she says. “Trying to understand my history and my religion and my culture led me to art.”
Amina began to unearth the creative history of her home country. She learned, in fact, that the earliest oil painting was discovered in Afghanistan and that today poetry is a preferred medium. “We’re very artistic in many different venues,” she says proudly.
And that was only the beginning. Today, Amina has flourished into a talented curator, collecting art that centers on the cultural traditions that she uncovered in the search for her heritage.
She has a special interest in fashion, using mannequins to model different styles and showcase diverse influences on Afghan clothing and jewelry. But as a curator, Amina doesn’t discriminate — she welcomes mediums from painting to photojournalism and showcases artists from around the globe.
Embarking into the Unknown
Amina’s creativity and abounding curiosity may not suggest a career built around medicine, science, and technology. But as a healthcare professional, Amina brings the same passion and emotional depth to her work that she does to her art.
Amina specializes in medical informatics at Fairview Hospital, using data to help physicians and nurses understand the capacity and the capabilities of health systems.
Informatics is an interdisciplinary field where flux is part of the job description — and where flexibility is a fundamental requirement. A set of diverse factors, some of which have seemingly little to do with healthcare, affect Amina’s work.
“I never really know what my day is going to be like,” she says. In fact, when Amina first applied for the position, she was asked whether she would be comfortable with a certain amount of variability at work. “I said, ‘That’s been my whole life,’” she laughs.
And she wasn’t exaggerating. Since Amina was a high school student at the Math, Science, & Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School, she’s never followed a typical career path or even a predictable workday. A summer internship took her to a hospice setting, where she worked with chronically and terminally ill patients, providing emotional support as well as medical care.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I handled it — being seventeen years old, at the peak of my youth, while surrounded by these fragile people,” remembers Amina. Even so, the challenges and the contradictions of that experience sparked Amina’s enduring enthusiasm for healthcare.
“What really touched me was the importance of making sure that we provided the best of what we could while patients were in their last days,” she says.
There’s no doubt that Amina did so. She takes her compassion with her even when — or especially when — she embarks into the unknown.
Putting Passion Into Practice
After high school, Amina earned two consecutive bachelor’s degrees, the first from St. Catherine’s University in Communications and the second from St. Mary’s University in Information Technology. Together, they empowered her to work in healthcare without becoming a nurse or a physician, which she had little interest in pursuing.
Though determined to build a successful career in this field, Amina wasn’t content to settle into a single position. As she moved through various health providers, she managed a software system called Epic, an electronic medical records system. Amina supported that system in nearly every capacity — “from project management to handling applications, to full installation.”
And when her daughter was born, Amina took on a different type of work altogether. “I thought maybe I wanted to stay with her,” she remembers. After all, Amina isn’t one to knock it until she tries it. “I took about four months off, but it wasn’t for me,” she says. “I just couldn’t sit at home.”
But whatever project she takes on, Amina completes it at peak performance — and she’s not shy about her proficiency and her potential. “A lot of times at these jobs I felt like I was the one person whom everybody wanted to ask for an opinion,” she says. “I knew that I had a lot to offer.”
That’s why Amina decided to put her passion into new practice and establish her own consulting firm. As a consultant, Amina enjoys an influx of diverse projects that vary in length from three months to two years and always keep her on her toes. “I don’t get bored, and I meet so many different people working on so many different things,” she says.
Amina called her new firm Veni Vidi Vici — because “with every task that I’ve taken on, I can say for sure that I came, I saw, and I conquered.”
Embracing Another Side of Humanity
Since she was seventeen, Amina has become more comfortable with the intense ups and downs and with the emotional labor inherent in healthcare. But still today she is challenged to cope with regular reminders of mortality.
She might be accessing a patient’s record, for example, only to see at the top of their chart that the patient was marked deceased. “That’s become like a normal thing for me,” Amina says. “I never see happy people, I never see people in their best state.”
That’s when Amina turns to art. Descending to her basement studio at the end of a long work day, Amina finds not only pride in herself and her community but also some much-needed peace of mind. “It’s about embracing the other side of humanity,” she smiles.
As Amina’s art deepened her connection with the Minnesota Afghan community, she grew increasingly aware of the lack of culturally-specific resources across the state. Since emigrating as a young girl, she had seen the population grow throughout her lifetime, but she was shocked to realize as an adult that no association existed to represent those with Afghan heritage.
At first, Amina thought that a website may be an appropriate medium to put community members into contact. But when she introduced the idea and received an outpouring of enthusiasm, she realized that her community needed her to do what she had done so many times before — believe in herself and take a risk.
“I’ve submitted forms to have a nonprofit and registered with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits,” she says. “Now I’m just looking for space.”
For Amina, the choice to establish an official organization was simple — “I can’t wait for somebody to do something. I have to take that step myself.”
Amina hopes that with a nonprofit to serve and support the Minnesota Afghan community, recent immigrants will settle into their new home more smoothly than her family could. “It was really difficult for my parents and me to navigate the culture and the system,” she remembers.
As an only child, Amina had to step up then, too. “Even when I was younger and I was in this new culture, I felt like I had to help my parents navigate.” Given her experience as a young refugee, Amina is especially attentive to the needs of children in her community, offering help with homework assignments, mock interviews, and even internships at her workplace.
“It’s almost like second nature now — I’m constantly helping people navigate. And I never thought about myself as a Shero,” admits Amina. “But I think that some of the kids I work with, especially the girls, might see me as a Shero.”