Daren Todd, a lifelong artist, never believed that art could become a career for him. However, due to the pandemic, Todd shifted his focus from music to visual arts and curating. The most recent exhibition curated by Todd, titled “Black History IS History,” features works by regional Black artists and is currently on display at the Multnomah Arts Center in Southwest Portland. Todd and Steph Littlebird, this year’s guest leaders of the MAC Gallery Committee, curated the show.
The Multnomah Arts Center, a part of Portland Parks & Recreation, not only showcases visual arts exhibitions but also offers arts education programs and performance events. The Multnomah Arts Center Association, an all-volunteer organization, provides scholarships and promotes equity and access to arts education and community engagement at the center.
Todd, a Black transgender man, recognizes the importance of diversity in the arts and actively seeks out representation for marginalized communities. He believes that by increasing visibility and representation, future generations will be inspired to pursue art careers. Todd aims to include more individuals like himself, including queer and Black artists.
Each year, the Multnomah Arts Center invites two regional artists from underrepresented or misrepresented communities in Western art to act as jurors for the annual open call and curate exhibitions. Megan Hatch, the gallery specialist, explains that their expertise and leadership greatly influence the MAC exhibition program.
In a statement regarding the exhibition, Todd expresses the importance of preserving erased history through art. He believes that artists have an opportunity to express and fight for Black civil rights when other platforms fail to do so. The exhibition provides space for Pacific Northwest Black artists to reflect on their experiences and use their work to advocate for change.
Steph Littlebird, Todd’s co-curator, is a member of Oregon’s Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes. Her previous projects, including the curating of “This IS Kalapuyan Land,” challenge stereotypical notions about Native people. Littlebird believes that Native American culture has been overlooked for too long, and institutions need to recognize its value.
Todd, an experienced muralist, illustrator, and designer, shifted his focus to visual arts during the pandemic when performance spaces closed. Collaborating with Littlebird, one of their goals was to showcase a diverse range of artists in the exhibition. “Black History IS History” features works by artists like Nyasha Madamombe, who explores human connections through her Zimbabwean heritage, and Nia Musiba, who conveys brokenness and longing in her cut paper collage.
Central pieces in the exhibition include sculpted busts by Madamombe adorned with beads and facial markings. Other works include a cut paper collage, colorful paintings, an art quilt made from African fabric, and a mixed-media assemblage. Todd hopes that visitors will engage with the artwork, empathize with the artists’ perspectives, and foster an exchange of understanding.
In conclusion, Daren Todd, along with Steph Littlebird, curated the “Black History IS History” exhibition at the Multnomah Arts Center. Their aim is to promote diversity, representation, and understanding through art, preserving erased history and advocating for social change.