To put it mildly: Don’t Shoot Portland has been busy. In a normal year, the group—founded in 2014 by activist and recent mayoral candidate Teressa Raiford—organizes direct action, operates a youth art program, and works to maintain archives about Black Portland and Black Portlanders, among countless other ad hoc projects. 2020 being 2020, the group’s business-as-usual was first shaken by COVID, and then, come June, nightly protests against police brutality it’s helped organize. On June 5, Don’t Shoot filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Portland, citing the police bureau’s use of tear gas and excessive force.
All this to say: its agenda is full of items more urgent than an exhibition at a tiny gallery in the Pearl District. Still, the show must go on, and starting next week (with help from folks at the Pacific Northwest College of Art), Don’t Shoot will begin installing Stop Killing Us: A Black Lives Still Matter Exhibition at Holding Contemporary for an August 6–29 run.
“I would love to just be like, ‘Yay, we’re installing all day!’” says Tai Carpenter, Don’t Shoot’s president and Raiford’s daughter. “But then real life hits. People are being kidnapped, people are being arrested and harmed. Every day it’s something different.”
Still, Carpenter’s full of enthusiasm about the show, a multimedia exhibition that will include photographs, acrylics, protest memorabilia from Portland’s spirited history, and looped documentaries, including a piece called State of Oregon that details the sentencing of two white supremacists who murdered Larnell Bruce in Gresham in 2016. The film also touches on Raiford’s own early experiences with the Portland police—her grandparents owned the long-standing Burger Barn on MLK, at which two PPB officers lobbed dead possums in 1981 (when the street was still called Union Avenue), an action they played off as a prank.
“More people were upset about the fact that they killed the possums,” Carpenter says. “I’m looking forward to people getting a little insight into why Don’t Shoot has been participating in direct action for so long. It wasn’t just the death of Teressa’s nephew—my cousin—that made it a reality. It was the fact that she grew up knowing she was a second-class citizen in the city of Portland.”
Stop Killing Us marks Don’t Shoot’s second exhibition at Holding, following 2017’s Stolen Angels, which memorialized Black children who’d been killed by police and white supremacists. Both a commercial gallery and an exhibition space, Holding hands over half of its roughly 500-square-foot white-cube real estate on NW Flanders for “more challenging, conceptual, political shows,” as Tiffany Harker (who operates the gallery with founder Iris Williamson) puts it.
“They really believe in the messaging we put out and aren’t afraid to let us showcase what we want,” Carpenter says. “They don’t try to censor us, they know you can’t control art, and we love and appreciate them for that.”
Stop Killing Us will be Holding’s first show since COVID hit, and, as you might expect, there are new rules: mandatory masks and a two-people-at-a-time viewing cap. Harker notes, however, that most of the work will be visible from the street, and that she and Williamson plan to keep lights on and video rolling beyond the gallery’s limited hours. What does Carpenter hope Pearl-strolling passersby might take away if their eyes catch some looping video?
“The juxtaposition of the video happening with the kids marching, maybe it’ll instill the fact that yes, we’re all showing up every day and we’re fighting for change, but also that fighting against injustice is not peaceful. Having children make signs and shout ‘Stop killing us’ is not to be celebrated,” she says. “I want people to walk away with mixed feelings, and I want them to be inspired to do something, and to also be heartbroken and angry and demand change.”
Holding Contemporary, 916 NW Flanders St, noon–5 p.m. Thu–Sat, Aug 6–29