For Portland artist Sa’rah Melinda Sabino, her show last summer at the Portland Art Museum’s Aux/Mute Gallery felt like a big risk. “It was a very personal journey,” she said. “I was quite scared because it was my first time even talking about being mixed race, like out loud outside of my journal.” But it was a risk that paid off. At the opening reception, people of color repeatedly told her “thank you for making this work — I finally feel seen.” And for Sabino, “it was sort of an indescribable feeling because I had never felt seen myself before. So to know that other people shared the journey … it just felt like I was doing the right thing and that the work needed to continue to happen.”

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The show, Away/Home, ran August 7 to November 14, 2021. It featured more than a dozen pieces, many looking at Sabino’s life through the lens of basketball. Growing up mixed race, struggling to figure out where she fit in, basketball “made me feel like I belonged.” In several of the pieces Sabino mixes sports imagery with iconic visuals from Moroccan culture (Sabino’s father is from Morocco), creating rich, provocative work. “I really wanted to explore the concept of two worlds coming together,” she said.

Sabino’s early love of basketball led her to an obsession with sneakers and eventually to a career in shoe design. While getting her fine arts degree in painting at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she also studied at Pensole Footwear Design Academy in Portland. Today she’s a full-time Senior Footwear Designer and a practicing artist, a combination that works well for her. “It’s crazy because I feel like my practice in painting made me a better designer. Shape, form, color, texture, pattern, all of the things that create a fashion product I’m using on a day to day in a different way.”

Currently Sabino is making new work for a show called Dream Girl, set to open at Portland’s One Grand Gallery in August. “The idea of Dream Girl, it’s an action. Like, ‘what are your dreams?’ And like, ‘how are you chasing them?’ I wanted to make an homage to my grandmothers. Because I feel like I’m walking for them in a way that their generation wasn’t able to.”

Her new show has her mind busy, dreaming and imagining fresh images. But mostly, she’s trying not to plan what comes next. “I’m just making work as it comes. Which I think is an interesting way to create, because I’m sort of healing through making.”

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