For those who still might be unaware, Seattle is not, as our idiot president tweeted “under attack” or “taken over by domestic terrorists,” but is in fact experiencing more of a “take back” by the community.
Located inside a six-block area of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (the artist formerly known as CHAZ) has recently been renamed by activists the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (or CHOP for short). Born in a movement that began a week ago in the wake of the peaceful protests that turned violent in the wake of police incoherence and overreaction, CHOP is a growing collective of local businesses, food vendors, artists, and activists who have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
That is where you might find Takiyah Ward, and the first thing you’ll notice about her is her smile, a smile that’s usually paired with an endearing and escalating laugh that stumbles out almost uncomfortably but lands as gracefully as one of her dance moves. Born and raised in Seattle, a dancer and painter, Takiyah describes herself simply as someone who was “born an artist.”
Inspired by the murals that were showing up on social media in cities like Charlottesville, NC, and DC, last Tuesday Joe Nix hit up Takiyah with a text proposing one here on Capitol Hill. “The homie Joe [Nix] hit me up and was like, ‘We need to do this,’ ” she tells me, launching her infamous laugh.
So off they went to literally paint the town.
They had a unique advantage since CHOP had already blocked off most of what would be their future canvas, providing an opportunity to start painting Pine Street on Wednesday. Thanks to their head start, Takiyah and Joe Nix were able to map out and outline the words ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ in one day.
“Art has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. My mom was an artist before she became a mom and then she had to get a job to support her kids'” she says. “But she has always been a creative person and I think a lot of that has been passed down to me” Takiyah tells me during a phone interview while she takes a break from helping her partner put a bookcase together in their new home, which has been an “incredibly unexpected but beautiful form of self care.” And a huge step for someone who has been seeking a stable place to chill.
Takiyah was very aware what a rare moment this was. “Normally getting a project of this size done in the city of Seattle would have required months of bureaucracy, red tape, and writing grants, and trying to find the money, all of which can kill a creative vibe or project real quick.”
It brought into sharp focus the way people have immediately gone into knee-jerk panic at the very suggestion of defunding the police but have rarely batted an eye in the past when arts programs and social programs were cut in Seattle Public Schools and all across the communities where people need them most.
As they waited for the paint on their outline to dry, Takiyah and Joe began reaching out to their extensive contact list of talented POC and indigenous artist friends in Seattle. Assigning a letter in “Black Lives Matter” to each artist or artist collective, they invited them to come to CHOP on Thursday, paintbrushes in hand, ready to work.
Mission accomplished, Takiyah has been enjoying some time over the weekend to reflect on the historic moment she just took part in. “It’s the incredibly positive response we’ve been getting that has been kind of surprising to me. I guess it’s because of the simplicity of how it happened and how quickly it happened.”
Being an artist is difficult for many reasons, but one of the biggest challenges has to do with the concept of time. Waiting for the right time, finding the time to create, or having to wait for your times to catch up with your vision. No one knows this better than Takiyah, who has been working on her craft since childhood but has only been able to make a living as an artist since 2015. Takiyah has been using this time to reevaluate the kind of artist she is and wants to be while trying to find a balance between mental health and creativity.
But even though we are still in the middle of a pandemic, it’s impossible to ignore the countless social injustices in this country. When the news first broke about the murder of George Floyd, something sparked in Takiyah and sent a charge through her body, unlocking something else that had been brewing for a while. Until then, she supported but hadn’t taken part in the demonstrations that were taking place in CHOP before the painting of the street mural. “I mean, let’s not forget we’re still in the middle of a pandemic; I plan on staying healthy for my friends and family. My life has always been about fighting for black lives. I want my nieces to be here in the future, I want my brother to be here, I want my mom to be here. So everything I do is geared to that at all times.”
But she also knew she needed to be part of this moment. The call to action can be a strong and unexplainable force. Which has lead her to some powerful advice for any young black or POC artist who’s wondering what to do with their time: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t hold back for fear of any sort of response because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about you having a perspective that you can add to the global story because nobody can tell your story like you can. There is only one of you on this planet.”
The Black Lives Matter movement is not something we should be talking about and discussing only when another police officer’s killing goes unpunished. It’s a subject that should be talked about in everyday conversations. It should be brought up like how we talk about the weather or the potholes in the road. This is a crucial time for us to take real action by supporting those in the Seattle community who have been abandoned. Or as Takiyah puts it, “Don’t take a knee, pay the fee.”
She’s right. Right now, Seattle is going through one of those rare times where the glare of international media is on us. We should take this moment to show the world that CHOP is a community effort that has been missing from the conversation. Don’t let the festival vibe fool you. Yes, there are victories to celebrate but we can’t forget that this all happened at the cost of innocent lives. CHOP is not a one-size-fits-all response to the systemic racism that still lives in America, but it is a very Seattle response to something we’ve been tip-toeing around for years.
The CHOP street mural was created because too many voices in our Seattle community have been overlooked for too long. This introduction to Takiyah and the many other incredible artists who painted those letters on the streets of Seattle has been a long time coming. And attention should be paid.
L: @tooth_taker and @drakesignanddesign
M: @moses_sun and more