Perspectives at PAM Helps Metabolize Portland's 2020 Protests
It’s tough to forget 2020 in Portland, and tougher still to remember it with any sort of clarity. That chaotic year, and the daily racial justice protests that put the Rose City under a national spotlight, have been drowned in collective repression or picked apart for talking points so relentlessly that the edges can be fuzzy. The Portland Art Museum is here to change that.
Perspectives, on display at PAM through November 13, plucks viral photographs of Portland’s 2020 protests from social media feeds, showcasing the experiences of six local BIPOC photographers. The artists represented are not exclusively career photographers: their primary professions range from Delta Airlines executive to youth rights activist to recent PSU grad.
The show aims to expand “the range of photographs we view beyond those made by photojournalists,” says curator Julia Dolan. “We can do more than put a BLM poster in the window,” adds PAM press manager Ian Gillingham.
The artists met via social media during the height of the protests. “We wanted to tell the story that the news wasn’t,” says Emery Barnes, who works in brand marketing by day. His high-contrast black and white photos artfully avoid subjects’ identifying features and—inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City album art—censor them with black rectangles. In erasing the individual, he highlights the protests as a collective action.
Mariah Harris’s richly saturated photos, on the other hand, highlight the individuality of their subjects. Harris worked in domestic violence and addiction advocacy during the protests, managing to attend protests around her graveyard shifts. She now works as a photographer full-time. Her photo “George Floyd Die-In" focuses tightly on a man with a fist in the air amongst crowds of protesters laying on the Burnside bridge; another protester holds an upside-down American flag that beams sharply across the distant background of Big Pink.
Perspectives has been in development for over two years, rescheduled multiple times due to COVID; it’s grown from an online PAM gallery to an outdoor exhibit on the museum grounds to its final form now on view in the Stott Gallery. In this form, viewers are immersed in the scale of the protests, which feel both like something from the distant past and something that happened yesterday.
“The fire in Portland never ceased to burn,” reads the collective artist’s statement. Perspectives is a reminder of what six different people saw through the flames.
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed–Sun through Nov 13 | Portland Art Museum, $22–25