Black Artists of Oregon
Jeremy Okai Davis, Wink (Jimmy Winkfield), 2022, acrylic on canvas. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

Black Artists of Oregon

Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR - To March 17, 2024, with a temporary closure Nov 26, 2023 through Jan 17, 2024 for construction

by Joseph Gallivan

The groundbreaking show Black Artists of Oregon looks at over a century of Black artists who worked in Oregon. For a state whose founding document excluded Blacks from owning property or living here, this exhibition is a revelation. The walls are teeming with artworks from the museum's collection, many hung salon-style, and others sourced by elders in the community.

Guest curator Intisar Abioto was already researching Black artists of Oregon in 2018 when she got a grant to expand her search to the museum. The show finally opened in September and is unmissable. With 69 artists and more than 200 objects, it includes WPA painter Thelma Johnson Streat, Ralph Chessé, Charles Tatum, Arvie Smith (mash-ups of Greek mythology and stereotypes), Shedrich Williames, Portland-based painter Isaka Shamsud- Din, Bobby Fouther and Carrie Mae Weems.

“Far from isolated or ancillary, Black arts and cultural production in Oregon has been in conversation and interchange with the world, and a part of its arts and cultural movements, all this time,” says Abioto. “Black Artists of Oregon is a heralding of Black presence, interchange, influence, and impact.”

Younger artists are represented by, among others, Jeremy Okai Davis, damali ayo (an old laptop shows her breakout work How to Rent a Negro), Sharita Towne, Lisa Jarrett and Jaleesa Johnston. The section on the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s, the ’70s and early ’80s will stir interest. The next gen is represented by Sadé DuBoise, whose paintings such as The Collective Mourn use black paint for Black skin, and whose Resistance Works poster series contributed to Portland’s 2020 Black Lives Matter movement protests.

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