The art and the message: 'Black lives matter. Period.'
Seattle police officers cleared the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone earlier this week, but an indelible reminder of the occupation remains: the colorful Black Lives Matter mural that stretches along Pike Street near Cal Anderson Park.
Aramis O. Hamer is one of 17 Seattle artists who collaborated on the mural. Each artist created one of the letters. Hamer painted the “V.”
“The V was definitely the first piece I did that was connected to the Black Lives Matter movement,” Hamer says.
For Hamer, the experience of working in the streets with like-minded artists and avid volunteers reinforced her commitment to creating a body of work that celebrates Black empowerment and Black joy.
Hamer isn’t new to Seattle’s art scene.
Her brightly-colored murals have attracted both private and commercial customers around the region, and earned her Cornish College of the Arts’ 2019 Neddy Award for visual art.
She’s best known for depictions of what she calls “Black girl magic,” exemplified by the purple goddess she created at Seattle Center for KEXP radio.
“When you look at my body of work, it’s truly been around uplifting Black women,” Hamer says. “People who aren’t familiar might say ‘Oh, she’s painting pretty purple and blue ladies, cool.’”
Hamer says, given the social uprising triggered by George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, her artistic message going forward will be more explicit.
“I truly feel we are experiencing history right now,” she says. “The movement has inspired me to go deeper, harder, to be even more intentional about the message I’m trying to create, which is Black Lives Matter. Period.”
Although Hamer has been painting since she was a girl in Chicago, she studied nursing after high school, and spent several years working in the healthcare field before she moved to Seattle in 2013. Since then, she’s devoted herself full-time to murals and to smaller works that she exhibits in galleries around the area.
Hamer's art will be part of a show called Yellow No. 5, opening in November at the Bellevue Arts Museum. In 2021 she’ll be featured in a solo show at Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum.
Although Hamer plans to be in her Ballard studio this summer, creating work for both of those shows, the ongoing racial justice demonstrations and the coronavirus resurgence remain top of mind for her. She points to the stark inequity the pandemic has laid bare: the virus has had disproportionate economic and health impacts on Black and Brown Americans. George Floyd’s killing was the match that ignited anger that had festered during the months of pandemic quarantine.
Hamer appreciates the danger coronavirus poses for people who want to protest in the streets, but she says the movement for racial justice can’t wait.
“I can be your essential worker by showing up every day at the grocery stores, the gas stations, and the emergency rooms,” Hamer. says “But when I want to come out and speak about my life mattering, it’s like, 'Oh no, go back in the house!'”
Hamer believes her role as an artist is to spread awareness of these issues, although she admits it can be exhausting. Her years as a nurse taught her a valuable lesson: you can’t heal everybody, so accept both the victories and the small defeats and keeping moving forward.
“I’ve kept that at the forefront of my mind during this revolution,” Hamer says. “I don’t know how all this is going to pan out. But I just know that I do what I can, what’s within my capacity, and that’s going to help me sleep at night.”