Metro is home to a masterful artwork depicting the history of African Americans in the West. Currently located in the south wing of the Oregon Convention Center, Bilalian Odyssey is local artist Isaka Shamsud-Din’s vision of important but little-known figures from the African American community dating from 1805 to the late 1920s. The 8’ x 16’ mural is breathtaking.
Part of the Regional Arts and Culture Council collection, the mural was created as a Percent for Art Project in 1983 for the Justice Center in downtown Portland, but it soon attracted vandals. In 2003, the mural was moved to the Oregon Convention Center as part of the building’s expansion.
Project manager Cary Stacey has been working with RACC and the OCC to move the mural to a more prominent location in the Convention Center. Soon, anyone entering the southernmost entrance of the building will be greeted by this powerful piece.
Shamsud-Din spent 20 years conducting historical research for the mural. From a bicycle corps of black infantry men in Montana to the first black woman to practice law in Oregon, the mural pays tribute to the generations of courageous people who rose from slavery, endured the hardships of the westward journey and contributed importantly to the settling of the West.
A survivor of the Vanport flood, Shamsud-Din grew up in Portland in the 1950s and studied art in the 1960s at Portland State University. Frustrated by how little information he could find about his cultural heritage, Shamsud-Din devoted himself to preserving and promoting African American culture through his life and art.
Once the mural is relocated, Metro's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team plans to host a public event to celebrate the piece, the people that it honors and the artist himself.
- Metro Communications