Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

More than a place: Abiotos at the Reser

As Studio Abioto's African-diaspora "Red Thread: Green Earth" closes with a vibrant performance at the Reser Center, show and space seem made for each other.

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The Reser’s nature-derived architecture in the lobby of the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts rhymed with the Abioto family’s natural dress during their performance.

To see and photograph Friday evening’s closing reception of Studio Abioto‘s art and performance work Red Thread: Green Earth in the lobby of Beaverton’s Patricia Reser Center for the Arts was a rare and moving experience.

The arts have always been intertwined within every fiber of my being. The stroke of a brush, the shutter of a lens, the strum of a guitar. I see through art-tinted glasses and crave it in everything I do. Is that because I like the feeling of empowerment in making my visions a reality? Perhaps. I believe that people are often destined to find a niche and make something out of it, and I know that I was born to tell stories through my art.

Anyone who knows me knows that artistic expression was always encouraged in my family. As an accomplished architect and designer, my dad has always supported my love for art. My mom fed my creative curiosity by finding countless opportunities to expose me to the arts. She made sure I always had the physical and mental tools I needed to make my ideas come to life.

I often found myself curiously peeking over my dad’s shoulder at whatever model he was working on. My dad, Joe Baldwin, is a partner at Opsis Architecture in Portland, and was one of the lead designers of the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts. I can still remember the day he showed me the model for the arts center for the first time. It was early in its design process, and all I could see on his computer screen were these intersecting wood beams that enabled the light to shine through the gaps. I was mesmerized. I asked him what they were for, and he told me the wood beams symbolize the beaver dams that once filled the banks of Beaverton Creek, which runs adjacent to the Reser. Being present and hearing stories about how this space has brought together so many diverse and artistic minds shows how this building has created a sense of community.

The Abioto family’s Red Thread: Green Earth performance was by far the most spiritually moving artistic experience I have ever witnessed. Midnight and her daughters Amenta (Yawa), Kalimah Abioto (Dr. Wood Chopper), Intisar Abioto, Medina Abioto and Ni Abioto told a powerful story of African diasporic culture through a holistic expression of sculpture, photography, music, poetry, food, and dance.

They moved through the crowd in intricate costumes as they spoke about the human spiritual connection to the Earth, and how much it provides. They also described through various mediums how the idea of “red thread” is a representation of the blood-soaked trail that slavery has birthed within their ancestral past, and how those fallen ancestors play a part in their lives today. Every person in the audience was entranced by the performers. (See Reclaiming nature: Revelations at the Reser, Friderike Heuer’s ArtsWatch story about the exhibition from shortly after it opened in November.)

I found myself overcome with emotion by the end of the performance. To feel intensely inspired in a space so special to my dad felt full circle for me. At the end of the show this audience full of strangers danced, hugged, and laughed. It was beautiful, and showed the power that lies within art. I came to realize that bringing community and creativity into a space has the power to build a sense of place. It was in this moment I knew it was stories like these that I was born to tell.

Yawa pieced together a musical arrangement using a kalimba, keyboard, and auto-looping device, and entranced the audience by layering hummed notes and melodies while stomping and clapping to create percussion. Following enthusiastic applause, she gave a glowing smile as she expressed her gratitude for all that the earth and her ancestors had given her.
Midnight reading a poem speaking of the ideals of people in touch with their natural origins and destinations, as differentiated from the artificial values exemplified by money. “Red Thread: Green Earth” opened at the Reser on Nov. 2 and closed on Saturday, Jan. 7.
Intisar Abioto delighted one and all with her art, charm, and grace.
Intisar Abioto and a young admirer, a great dancer himself.
Midnight re-dresses Egungun with fresh vegetation in the Reser’s characteristic play of light. Egungun, made of intricately crafted and layered masked costumes, is a visible manifestation of the spirits of dead ancestors, who periodically revisit the human community for ancestral reverence, celebration, and blessings.
Midnight gives Egungun one last touchup with fresh nature.
Almost everyone joined in the final dances together.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Kendall Baldwin is a second-year student at the University of Oregon studying Journalism with a double minor in Multimedia and Global Studies. She is an aspiring photo and documentary journalist and hopes to travel the world while learning about different cultures and communities. She finds joy in meeting people with different backgrounds and using her passion as a storyteller to capture and share their lived experiences through photography, writing, and artistic expression.

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5 Responses

  1. Well written article. Love Kendall’s connection to the Reser from this event and her dad!

  2. Thank you Kendall, your article was so, so special and I loved how you intertwined your family and artistic heritage with space and performance….you are a rising star…keep going building architectural wonders of stories…your parents are beaming!

  3. Wow!!! What wonderful article and beautiful photography well done I’m so proud of her

  4. Kendal…tears formed as I read your article. Knowing the Reser is providing space for understanding and love to flourish brings me joy. Thank you for being part of the experience…

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