Portland Streetcar's latest Art on Board installation, "The Watchers: Keep One Eye Open" by Habiba Abdul Rahim, is out on the rails around Portland's central city. This fifth vehicle-wrap installation celebrates the strength of a community through the actions of its members.
Art on Board is a program which showcases local artists’ work in public as the vehicles serve riders around Portland’s core. Highlighting Portland's diversity, artists of color have been paid to show their work on the vehicle exterior as a moving canvas celebrating our community.
When I first learned how to paint it was always with the idea that I wanted to create art that was in the image of people like me; African Americans are absent from historical art collections in some of the largest museums, galleries and major auctions and I knew that I wanted to use my gift to change that in whatever way that I could. As I began to share with people the how and why I began to paint, I soon began to realize the importance of connection and belonging. My art had become the vehicle through which we share life experiences and recognized similarities. It did not matter that the woman in the painting was Black, it was the story behind the painting, or the emotion it invoked, that was most important.
I create each painting with color in mind first; before I even know what the subject matter will be, I know what colors I want to use, and I allow the color choice to dictate the mood. In my most recent work I have been painting women on various shades of grey. The color grey for some can be unemotional and neutral; for me grey represents all the things that I want to be: peaceful, a soothing and nurturing presence, reliable, and wise. Grey for me represents a work in progress; accepting where I am while simultaneously creating who I want to become. Each piece is a search for meaning. They each are a reflection on the ideas of beauty, love, perfection, and growth.
"Keep one eye open" is an idiom that I grew up hearing elders say; it was a reminder to always remain vigilant and watchful. This piece is a reflection on the ways in which I can follow in the footsteps of the elders that I learned from; they were wise, nurtured, developed and guided, and anchored their families and community.
‘The Watchers: Keep One Eye Open’ is a series that calls us to reflect on the ways in which we can support, take control of, and build stronger communities. A communities greatness is determined by the actions of its members. My hope with this series is that we question whether or not we are individually creating meaningful change, are we inspiring others to create positive change, are we holding the right people accountable and if not, how do we do better.
May we all be Watchers over our communities.