Portland Art Museum works for fairness by amplifying black voices


Five years ago, the Portland Art Museum (PAM) decided it was their responsibility to do something about the continued silence and oppression of Blacks, Indigenous Peoples and People of Color (BIPOC) through of art, thus forming its Equity and Inclusion Commission in order to better represent the voices of BIPOC at the museum.

Turning to today, the committee says it is dedicated to fighting discrimination within the artistic community by amplifying the voices of BIPOC artists and providing a safe space to create and share. As part of these efforts, MAP is currently offering three exhibitions dedicated to BIPOC artists.

Color range: the excellence of black on the world stage

One of WFP’s oldest current exhibits is “The Color Line,” which was just extended until May 22, 2022 and has been ongoing since before the pandemic. Introduced on June 15, 2019, the exhibit consists of photographs and data graphics produced by black author and activist WEB Du Bois for the 1900 Paris Exposition, and contains some of the 300 photographs and datasets originals of the Exhibition.

Ian Gillingham, editor-in-chief of the press and publications of the WFP, said that the exhibition “The Color Line” was initially created in conjunction with an earlier exhibition, “Paris 1900”, installed on June 8, 2019 to highlight the ‘Paris Exhibition of 1900.

The Equity team proposed to bring a new perspective to the Exhibition and set up “The Color Line” to showcase the work of Du Bois, believed to represent black excellence and humanity. A member of the project team, curator Alex Haynes, said that “the main influence of this project is humanity which lies in framing its own personal history.”

The exhibition is located on the lower level of the main MAP building. Upon entering, one encounters two walls covered with photographs and blocks of text, and a third wall completely covered with a fresco of data graphics all produced by Du Bois. There are four different photo boards titled University, Community, Work and Places and Portraits. These photographs represent the life of black people in the United States during the first generation after the end of slavery.

The exhibit effectively demonstrates the strength and excellence of blacks, showcasing photographs of blacks at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), forming a community among them as a shield against white supremacy.

Haynes wrote that it presents “an assertion of their freedom of speech and their power to formulate their own narratives.” Data graphics represent statistics, such as property and population demographics among blacks in the United States at the time, to demonstrate their position as the first generation after slavery.

APEX: Sharita Towne and a Portland Black Art Ecology

Spanning the fourth floor of the PAM Northwest Building, the APEX exhibit was installed on July 31, 2021 and will not leave the museum until July of next year. The exhibit is dedicated to highlighting PSU’s Alum Sharita Towne project “A Black Art Ecology of Portland” (BAEP) which aims to uplift black artists in the Portland area and provide them with a safe space to freely create without fear of reaction or discrimination. .

BAEP’s work included celebrating and showcasing black art and education, as well as fundraising for local organizations run by black artists.

Bright colors surround the gallery, including blue walls, colored lights, and a rainbow mural covering the gallery wall and ceiling. The multimedia exhibition features paintings, journals, booklets, poetry and videos. The gallery juxtaposes black power with black wrestling, with visualizations of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as black creativity.

One of the videos featured in the gallery is the opening of Towne’s “A Movement for Black Laughs,” a one-hour comedy special depicting the role laughter and joy play in resilient black communities.

AUX / MUTE Gallery

Finally, located at the center of the APEX exhibition, the AUX / MUTE Gallery was created on August 7, 2021 and will remain until June 2022 as a space dedicated to BIPOC artists and creatives to share their work and amplify their voice. The gallery is presented by The Numberz FM, the only black-run, 100% black music-focused radio station in Portland.

PAM’s partnership with The Numberz began in 2019 during a retrospective of the career of black artist Hank Willlis Thomas, deepening after the station set up its office in PAM’s empty galleries in August 2020 after the pandemic closed their space – and also emptied the museum.

Inside the gallery, a pop-up bodega store hosted by The Numberz features works by local BIPOC artists. Gillingham explained that the bodega store ties in with Towne’s APEX exhibit by depicting what it really means to support black artists – by buying their work so they can continue to create.

These three exhibitions, together with others at WFP, relate to the equity mission launched in 2016. Visiting doesn’t have to break the bank, as WFP offers an annual admission pass to all students for $ 25, and anyone enrolled in the PSU is eligible. All a student has to do is Sign up online and show their student ID at the door, allowing them affordable access to a plethora of works by Portland-based BIPOC artists.


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