The Portland Art Museum is currently playing host to the exhibit “Isaka Shamsud-Din: Rock of Ages.”

This is an intimate exhibition celebrating the Portland artist’s paintings, which are rich in a narrative combining personal stories and folklore. Shamsud-Din’s paintings also celebrate and honor individuals by capturing portraits.

Tightly composed and with a vibrancy of color, the works invite viewers to be among these individuals and warm settings.

The exhibition is titled after Shamsud-Din’s painting of his father, “Rock of Ages” (1976), the Portland Art Museum’s most recent acquisition of the artist’s work. Capturing his subject in the luscious garden that his father prided himself in — a setting that was particularly special for the very close father and son — Shamsud-Din invites the viewer to understand this man better.

In “Brothers Phree” (ca. 1990), Shamsud-Din reveals a scene at a local club then called the Welcome Inn, on Northeast Alberta Street in Portland. It is a happening place of social gathering, pool, dancing and relaxing, while the backdrop of the Pyramids of Giza is a reminder of roots to Africa and pre-colonial kinship.

With the support of the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) and Teressa Raiford of “Don’t Shoot Portland”, an arts and education organization that promotes social justice and civic participation, the exhibition also highlights the significant mural projects Shamsud-Din has created for Portland in a span of more than 50 years.

Isaka Shamsud-Din was born in 1940 and came to Portland via Texas when he was in the first grade. The sixth of 14 children, Shamsud-Din became aware of the many inequitable systems as a young black person navigating his world on a daily basis. However, he has maintained his commitment to art, education and work for the African American community and his home. In 2019, Shamsud-Din was recognized with Isaka Shamsud-Din Day, a Juneteenth celebration at Portland’s City Hall honoring his work as an artist and social justice leader.

“Isaka Shamsud-Din: Rock of Ages” will be on exhibit at the Portland Art Museum through March 12.

David Lynx is executive director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. He writes this weekly column for Explore. Learn more at

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