Future Prairie Radio Season Three Episode Eleven: Tracing this Story with Ameera Saahir
My name is Ameera Saahir. I recently turned 74. I’m an African American woman, highly educated, I grew up in southwest Portland and was gentrified to southeast Portland; been here 16 years. I’m an artist and a business owner. I was looking into my ancestry. That's where the idea came up for the show that the Regional Arts and Culture Council funded. I’ve always captured stories and ideas. I found out from talking to family members that we have a narrative that has been circulating within our family at the family reunion. I took that information, the story, and I modeled my art exhibit after the milestones that the narrator had left for us. I took our family and I put it into historical references. Then I started looking into the story of the African migration. I’m from a large family. I saw family members becoming homeless, and I was like...oh, no. My own sister was living in terrible transitional housing; it became personal.
I went backwards instead of going forwards, and I traced through that story, and I looked at the housing. It started in Africa. I made some paintings of housing. There’s a slave ship called Minerva in my family history story. The woman who was captured and enslaved and brought here from Africa, well, her name was Minerva Jane. in my research, I learned—and I went, it took me months, but I traced it back—that was the name of the slave ship. That’s where our story begins. I have the narrative. I found records of the ship that carried my ancestors.
When my painting exhibit starts, it starts in Africa. Minerva talks about arriving in Virginia. She said she was put on the auction block. Slaves were being sold where Wall Street is now. I connect that to what we are seeing here now, which is squalid affordable housing. I was three months old in Vanport. I don’t have memories of it, only stories; I was only three months old. I was the first to go to college in my family. I finally made it. There I was in a private college in brand-new housing in my early 20s. Then they killed Martin Luther King Jr. while I was at Pacific University in Forest Grove and my dad said come home, come home...
It took me a while to get back to art school. When I finally went, I fell in love with oil. I’m an oil painter now, and I love to do abstract. As far as paint, there are all kinds, but I could never afford to use the best. I said to myself, I challenged myself. If I’m good, then I should be using the good stuff. When Regional Arts and Culture Council gave me a grant, they said, “What do you want?” I said, “All I want to do is to be able to use some good paint.” There’s nothing like it. I use brushes, but I also use the knife. It’s vibrancy, it’s color. I’m in love with color! When you put the good paint on the canvas, even a base coat, it’s like — bam, it’s staring at you! It affirms me, because now I’m confident in saying I am good. I deserve what I’m experiencing right now—feels good!
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