My favorite Portland artist – Isaka Shamsud-Din – made these TWO murals at Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard and NE Shaver Streets in 1989. Both sides of the building – now vacant – are part of the Irvington Covenant Church.

North Face.

South Face.

From the 200X RACC annual report (I think – those things are unsearchable) I found $10,000 was used to retouch Shamsud-Din’s MLK piece. About $60,000 short of a complete job, leaving major parts now unevenly faded.

I love the colors, his style, the form, the content. He’s a storyteller and a story -rememberer, someone who tends the flame of history, of a minority history, ruthlessly ignored and forgotten by the majority. Awkwardly, as a belonger of the majority I don’t know these stories. They’re not my stories. Shamsud-Din doesn’t care – neither do I. He makes me want to know, to be curious, which is the device which draws us together. He makes us curious.

The barriers to these murals are the surrounding cityscape. No pedestrians, just some junky busted stuff, funky trees, evil crows and rumbling traffic.

It’s really not enough to make the art, to buy it and secure it to a wall somewhere. The artwork continues and needs to be maintained as the treasure it comes to be, the value held by the community. Humboldt Neighborhood Association! Contact Metro Murals and Shamsud-Din immediately! Prove your relevance! Get this artwork fixed up!

Shamsud-Din’s first public painting is weirdly hung in a stairwell of Smith Memorial at Portland State – Vanport, 1965. Forty hard years later, the painting has weathered well considering opportunity for destruction with a thousands students a day milling past, it’s still striking and unique. And – different than much of Portland’s great art – no barriers between the art and the viewer.

Deliciously close. Shamsud-Din paints for the viewer twenty feet away and more. It bounces off the flat, bounding toward you, ready to engage.

There’s little left of Vanport, just a nice picture book put out by the OHS, and a few foundations hidden by brush. Shamsud-Din has made other historical paintings and murals about Vanport and the demolition of the African American community there. Oh well. I guess we’ve all been thinking about floods…

Shamsud-Din is repped by Lauro Russo in NW Portland.

Advertisements