Making History

MK Gallery, Portland State University, Portland OR, 2002
In collaboration with Mariah Berlanga-Shevchuk

Making History was an exhibition of student artwork interpreting three public spaces in downtown Portland. The show was created in conjunction with a class I co-created with Mariah Berlanga-Shechuk titled Interpreting Place. I curated and designed the exhibition, and created an accompanying gallery guide.

The following is a more detailed introduction from my curatorial statement:

The collection of objects, images, and reflections in Making History echo efforts to redress historical narratives in public displays through looking both at the role of monuments, sculpture, and public art, as well as the design of historical markers, plaques, and the interpretive panels found in so many of our public spaces.

The show was curated from the curriculum and student work created in the Interpreting Place class, offered at Portland State University in Winter of 2022. Students created artwork and visual design interpreting three sites in downtown Portland: The PSU Oak Savanna, Chapman & Lownsdale Squares, and the site of the Rough Rider monument pedestal.

The ideas in the show draw from the work of organizations, communities, and individuals who are questioning the narratives of public historical interpretation.

Some of these efforts and people were discussed during our classes, and are represented in the show. This includes images of work by Hank Willis Thomas, Shaun Slifer, Kara Walker, Rosten Woo, Barbara Kruger, Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis, the Equal Justice Initiative, Monument Lab, and a project I developed with the artist Michelle Illuminato.

In addition, research images related to the Portland sites are included in the show. Some were drawn from first-hand documentation and others from secondary research from historical sources. Other images evoke the process of creating public artwork, or the struggle to have them recontextualized or removed. The inclusion of these images and ideas are meant to provoke critical conversations and actions.

At the same time, our historical research has revealed examples of peculiar and bizarre conflicts in our city’s history. Of these—probably my favorite—is the tale of the 18′ tall, Soviet-inspired brutalist sculpture of Teddy Roosevelt with a striking resemblance to Benito Mussolini. The statue “disappeared” from the waterfront in downtown Portland under mysterious circumstances in 1942. 

The hope in including the varied aspects of student explorations, professional work, and open-ended research is to create a dialogue between them, pointing to both the messiness and possibility of creatively addressing how history gets told in public.

Participating student artists and designers:
Sabrina Achcar-Winkels, Courtney Chan, Izzy Gavaza, Sarah Harris, Kaya Lathrop, Nia Musiba, Caleb Putnam, Ryan Ritchey, Erin Stagner, Vanessa Vu, James Webb. With unauthorized reproductions of work by Barbara Kruger, Kara Walker, Lenka Clayton, M. Michelle Illuminato, Rosten Woo, and Hank Willis Thomas.