Now more than ever, care—for one's self and others—is incredibly important to put into action. It's particularly important for Black people, and especially Black women. As a photographer, that's something Intisar Abioto understands deeply.
"I put my art first and I put my community work through art first, but I'm learning and have learned that I need to take better care of myself," says Abioto. "Not just so that I can be able to do the work but because I'm valuable and important."
She realizes how valuable and important other Black women and femmes are as well. For years, Abioto has told the stories of Portlanders through her photo blog The Black Portlanders. But during the pandemic and protests, Abioto has created her largest, most public-facing work yet. BabeSis, Aunts Tenn, Ms. W, Miss Choomby…& in Our Company, Abioto's photo mural located at Grand and Ash in Southeast, depicts Black women standing in their strength. Placed against a black backdrop, the six black-and-white photos are pulled from Abioto's archives, including a portrait of her younger sisters, local eclectic artist Amenta Abioto, and another of the Lee sisters, Abioto's aunts who were once dubbed the "most arrested civil rights family" during sit-in protests in Memphis, Tenn.
There's always been a beautiful brightness to Black beauty, and even though most of society chooses not to see it, Abioto's mural tries to make sure people don't forget it.
"Right now, we're thinking about Black lives, but the history of Black women, femmes and girls in this country, how our bodies were used to build this country, while being dispensable, you know that's a tradition," Abioto says. "The information we've gleaned from being Black girls, from toddlers through being teenagers until now—there's so much that we see that we've had to filter out to maintain ourselves."
Since the mural was put up with a wallpaperlike material, it won't last forever. However, Abioto plans to touch it up for as long as she can to make sure the whole point of its presence is really driven home—that Black women and femmes matter and deserve to be seen.
"Tending to Black girls is a gift—you would be so lucky," she says. "If we're safe right now, that's the glory."