That's the first thing you notice in C. Davida Ingram's exhibition at the Northwest African American Museum.
It smells like the sea: fishy and briny, with a sort of musky undertone. You can trace those aromas, in part, to a white dress that's hanging on the gallery wall. Thousands of tiny fish that look like minnows or sardines are sewn onto the fabric.
This dress, like the photos nearby, are remains of an earlier performance. In fact, most of what's on display comes from other exhibitions; they represent Ingram's collaborations with other artists: two Chicago poets, musician Evan Flory-Barnes and Seattle visual artist and writer Barbara Earl Thomas.
Ingram's exhibition, "Eyes to Dream: A Project Room," is a rumination of what it means to be black and female in America in 2015.
"During the period of 2013 to 2015, like many people I was thinking about what it means to be black in the United States of America," she says. "What it means to dream about justice."
For Ingram, social justice means how we love each other in a society that doesn't encourage us to reach out to people who aren't like us.
"I love that James Baldwin says you really can't love someone if you're not willing to look at and question your assumptions about what they are and who they are," she says.
Ingram grew up in Chicago. She calls herself a member of the post-Civil Rights generation. She says her mother, a school teacher, would boycott work on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday (in the era before it became a national holiday).
"And she would have us sit in our bedroom and listen to vinyl records of his speeches," Ingram recalls. "If we complained that we had a day off school but we had to do history, she'd school us!"
Ingram moved to Seattle after graduate school. It's the first place she's lived where she feels distinctly in the minority. But Ingram says she's been embraced by the organizations that have hired her here; she's currently doing youth outreach work for the Seattle Public Library. That work is really important to her.
"I call myself an artist with a social practice," Ingram says. "Most of my work is, what are our relationships to one another? How can they be transformed in really beautiful ways?"
Ingram is the founder of the Seattle People of Color Salon, a 2,000-member organization. She has performed in private homes, organized shows in small galleries, and worked with Seattle Art Museum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her current show,"Eyes to Dream: A Project Room by C. Davida Ingram" is her first museum exhibition. It's at the Northwest African American Museum through July 5, 2015.