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Artists Bring Archived Surveillance Records To Light


1969 surveillance photo of Lloyd Marbet (courtesy of Portland's Archives and Records Center)

1969 surveillance photo of Lloyd Marbet (courtesy of Portland's Archives and Records Center)

This 1969 photo of anti-nuclear activist Lloyd Marbet in downtown Portland just one small piece of a large set of surveillance files that the Portland Police Bureau compiled on 301 activist groups in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. A 1981 Oregon law prohibited collecting this kind of data on those not affiliated with criminal activity, and the files would have been destroyed had they not been stolen by one of the officers involved in the surveillance. Years later, they were anonymously donated to the Portland Tribune, which ran a series of articles on the files, later dubbed “The Watcher Files.”

Poet Kaia Sand and visual artist Garrick Imatani have created “The Watcher Files Project” as artists-in-residence at the City of Portland’s Archives and Records Center. They’re using the material from the files to create their art. The artists are also talking to some of those surveilled, like Lloyd Marbet, and using their responses in the project as well. One of the poems Sand is composing is based on all the sentences in the files that start with the word “she,” as a way to capture some essence of the lives of the various women who were surveilled.

Women activists (courtesy of Portland's Archives and Public Records Center)

Women activists (courtesy of Portland's Archives and Public Records Center)

While the project won’t be fully complete until next summer, Sand and Imatani are launching an exhibition of their work in progress Thursday at 6:30 at the Portland Archives and Records Center.

What questions do you have about this public art project?

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