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Constructing Identity

Jan 28, 2017 - Jun 18, 2017
8:00 am to 5:00 pm
1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR
General Accessibility

Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African-American Art


In 21st-century America, questions of race and identity are being explored as never before. This exploration has prompted many artists of color to investigate what constitutes identity, community, and the idea of a so-called post-racial society. Constructing Identity: Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African-American Art brings together paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings by prominent contemporary African-American artists along with a selection of historical works from the 1930s, 1940s, and Civil Rights era.Drawing from the Petrucci Family Foundation collection, Constructing Identity features works by more than 80 artists, including Henry Ossawa Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Faith Ringgold, Radcliffe Bailey, Kara Walker, and Mickalene Thomas as well as John Biggers, Barbara Bullock, David Driskell, Joyce Scott, and Sonya Clark, among others. The exhibition brings awareness to the contributions of artists of color, whose work is often historically underrepresented in museums and galleries, to foster a more complete understanding. Constructing Identity includes works by 11 artists whose artwork is also held in the collection of the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., as well as Northwest artists such as Portland painter Arvie Smith (whose own exhibition at PAM has been extended through March 12).

Black silhouette of a Black woman in a maid's outfit and headwrap holding up the white silhouette of a woman in a fancy dress and hairstyle
Kara Walker (American, born 1969), The Emancipation Approximation (Scene 18), 1999–2000, courtesy the artist

As part of a growing and more thoughtful dialogue about how art reflects the experiences of African Americans, Constructing Identity visually represents a cross-section of themes that speak to all of us in voices from communities of color in America.

“Historically, and within African-American communities, a central question is how do we best represent ourselves—and how do these representations come together to form an ever-changing statement of identity?” asks Berrisford Boothe, curator for the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African-American Art. “We offer this art to present a more complete and informed view of African Americans as a people and reveal the dynamic nature, narratives, and impulses that constitute our full humanity.”

Founded in 2006, the Petrucci Family Foundation’s aims to support education and create opportunity for Americans at every stage of and station in life. Its collection of African-American art is a targeted initiative established to focus on, collect, conserve, and exhibit an inspiring range of works, thereby confirming African-American art’s essential place in the history and discourse of American art. The collection celebrates the beauty, compassion, strength, and persistent will within the culture of African Americans. “We want to collect master works that define humanity, that show characters in their full, most authentic human moments,” Boothe says.

Painting of a Black man's face
Donald E. Camp (American, born 1940), Man Who Feels Shape (David Stephens), 2006, courtesy the artist

Constructing Identity is accompanied by a catalog, an artist panel discussion and artist talks on February 11, and additional programs and community partnerships.

Organized by Portland Art Museum and guest curated by Berrisford Boothe, Professor of Art at Lehigh University.

In conjunction with the exhibition Constructing Identity, the Portland Art Museum is excited to be partnering with the Museum of Impact (MOI) on The Art Is Ours education and community gallery. MOI is the first mobile social justice museum creating a more just, connected and compassionate society through our content, education, and outreach. It works to inspire action by exploring self, society, art, and activism. The Art Is Ours gallery includes a reading lounge with over 30 books covering African American art history and artists featured in the exhibition as well as several books for children and families.  The gallery also includes a wall dedicated to displaying creative responses from Portland-based artists of color (ranging from youth participants and emerging artists to more established artists), and a community response wall (coming soon).

“People of the African-American diaspora are keepers of the culture. We hold space for the fullness of our humanity, our brilliance, our being, our right to self-expression. The Constructing Identity exhibition, featuring over one hundred works of art, is a roadmap for our journey as we pivot, pause, leap, dance, sway, and glide through the Black experience, leaving a visual legacy trail to enrich the viewer. The Art Is Ours means a tipping point is at hand, where African Americans have agency in our representation and as cultural institutions work to ensure that we are seen, valued, and respected in every facet. To understand The Art Is Ours is to crack open the intersections of our lived experience as people of color, laying our heritage bare for all to see. To proclaim The Art Is Ours sets intentions and permeates this space with consensus and creative resilience. To embody The Art Is Ours is to extend our consciousness towards black excellence, black joy, black radical thought, and black lives—a contested and creative space that asks critical questions, expands the narrative, and finds the through lines from me to we.”
Monica O. Montgomery, Founding Director, Museum of Impact


The Petrucci Family Foundation
Louis and Virginia Clemente Foundation
The Boeing Company
Ronni Lacroute
Exhibition Series Sponsors

Promotional Partners

Portland Trailblazers
The Skanner News
The Portland Observer