Meet Fred Yiran (Wiyfengla)

     Everyone noticed there was something special about the little fellow but no one knew what it was. When it came time for his father to bestow his African name, extra consultations with the ancestors were needed to come up with an appropriate name for him. On the day of his naming, everyone expected the boy to be given a very complicated name but his father called him Wiyfengla (who will fly?). His father may have had an indication from his forefathers as to who his son really was.Fred was an arts educator and a cultural emissary–that is to say he shared knowledge of his culture with others. He was a master painter, musician, carver, sculptor, jewelry-maker, poet, singer and a performance artist. He was a recipient of Minnesota State Arts Board grants, which made it possible for him to show young people how to build and play drums at camps and classes offered at various Minnesota college locations. He performed with the musical group, Black Umfolosi at Duluth’s Children’s Museum’s Whole World Festival in 1988. Fred regularly collaborated with the Minneapolis Institute of Art and was featured in Newton’s Apple, an educational program. He also worked extensively with the Wilder Foundation and even crafted a traditional African house for an exhibition.
     He viewed the world as one big community. Fred valued education, community, culture, respect for elders, and respect for the earth. He would say, “My art carries my philosophy of life: simplicity. I look at life from the simplest forms.” He believed in caring for the planet, “We need to be connected to the earth; then we can appreciate each other and have peace.” Students would leave his classes with their beautiful handcrafted drums, but they’d also gain new insights about the importance of personal responsibility and education. His work and teachings were so highly respected that when the Paramount King of Nso’, Fon Sehm Mbiŋlo, visited the United States in August 2003, he bestowed the title ‘Mfoome’ upon Fred to honor him for his devotion to conveying knowledge about African culture and art. Culturally, Mfoome means ‘general’ and is the highest traditional military title one can receive; Fred Yiran was a warrior of the arts.

The scope of his work

Dive Deeper

The Fred Yiran Story

by Sheèy Shiyghan Stephen Shemlon, PhD