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Where to see Isaka Shamsud-Din’s art around Portland

His murals span more than 50 years and can be found in public buildings and schools

Two people stand in an art museum looking at different paintings.

“Rock of Ages” began Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 and ends Sunday, March 12, 2023.

Photo by PDXtoday

City Editor Ben here. On my last visit to Portland Art Museum, one particular exhibit stopped me in my tracks — Isaka Shamsud-Din’s “Rock of Ages,” located on the third level. To read the artist’s statement, I had to tear my eyes away from “Brothers Phree,” a poignant scene around a billiards table, and vivacious portraits like “For The Love.” What I saw astounded me.

Shamsud-Din was not only a pivotal artist in the city, but a social justice leader too. His many murals and other public works, created over a span of more than 50 years, provide an important perspective on being Black in the Pacific Northwest. In 2019, Portland City Hall observed Isaka Shamsud-Din Day to honor that legacy.

A colorful Isaka Shamsud-Din painting

The gallery is named for this painting, depicting Shamsud-Din’s father.

Photo by PDXtoday

Born in 1940 as Isaac Allen, his family moved from Texas to Vanport when he was six. Following the disastrous flood in 1948, they were displaced and had to relocate to a housing project in Albina. When he changed his name to better reflect his African heritage in 1976, Shamsud-Din began to share his talents, mentoring fellow Black artists in the community, while also visiting prisons to teach the inmates how to compose large-scale paintings.

Today, Shamsud-Din is battling cancer and his family has organized a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his medical bills. If you want to experience “Rock of Ages” firsthand at Portland Art Museum, you have until Sunday, March 12, 2023. To find his murals, use the map below.

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