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Welcome (back) to Conversations with Black Creators! We've made some really exciting updates to the way we produce this series and are kicking off Conversations 2.0 with Aramis Hamer, a Seattle-based muralist and creator.

Note from the Content Manager: I am so EXCITED to be restarting Conversations. As you may have read in this post I wrote last month, we are doing some much-needed sprucing of the series this year. Aramis Hamer – this month’s featured artist and absolute powerhouse human – not only gave us her time as an interviewee, but also as a consultant on our optimization plan. 

We are so grateful for her thoughtful questions, candor, and invaluable insights. (And those of filmmaker Jonathan Aubrie Lewis, who also consulted with us! Thank you, Jonathan!)

We have a rock solid production plan that includes:

  • Compensated interviews
  • A more robust donation plan: interviewees get to select an organization to which Tako Agency will donate $300, non-tax deductible
  • Accelerated outreach and incentivized referral program (that’s still a work in progress, but we’re getting there!)
  • Better promotion of the series, each feature, and the organizations our interviewees love
  • Other miscellaneous improvements and goodies

 

Due to the level of care (read: time) we put into each interview and post, the size of our team, and the financial investment we’ll be making going forward, we’ve decided to produce one Conversation per quarter, for a total of four per year. Each will be split into two parts, where the content of the interview will allow, and posted over two months. That means two months of promotion for the interviewee, the series, and the organization to which they choose to have us donate!  

If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right, and cutting back on the number of features is the only way we can do that right now. ❤️

OK, NOW – about Aramis. I don’t even know where to start. She interviewed with my production partner, Cindy, and I had the pleasure of listening to the recording and editing the (very, very long – thanks, ladies lol) transcription down to the post you’re about to read. 

I wasn’t even in the “room” during the interview and I could feel self-assurance, imagination, heartache, joy, and curiosity vibrating off of Aramis’s voice when she spoke. I laughed – a lot. I had several “Wow…I’ve gotta hear that again” moments. I was bowled over by her passion, self-awareness, courage, and insight. I could not have possibly chosen a better feature to kick off the series for 2022. 

More of an audiophile? Want the full scoop that we couldn't squeeze into two blog posts? Become an AO Hamer Patreon subscriber and you'll get exclusive access to audio of the full interview. 👀 

Aramis's organization of choice is Vivid Matter Collective -- an artist collective based in Seattle, WA who've started a fund for other local artists. We love creatives helping creatives. 🤝 We've made our donation and encourage you to do the same, on a give-what-you-can basis! Donations can be sent via PayPal to tdubcustoms206(at)gmail(dot)com, payable to Vivid Matter Collective, C/O Takiyah Ward.

This is the first of two parts. Part two will be launching next month.

Enjoy!

xx Emma

 

Hey Aramis! Go ahead and introduce yourself to the people hanging out at the Stand.

I'm Aramis Hamer. I'm a visual artist and muralist in Seattle, Washington. I call myself a visual artist, but I wanna identify more as a creator. I want to expand in so many different ways, so creator is a better definition of who I am and what I do. 

A lot of my work is centered around Black Girl Magic and higher consciousness. Music is a huge inspiration…and the cosmos…just exploring this inner journey that I feel sometimes gets so lost in the noise on this planet.

Aramis Hamer in studio

Ugh, all so good! Alright. So, we’ll start with a fun warmup question: Is there a year in your life that you would go back and relive? If so, what year and why?

Ah, you know…I've had some good times. I'm really grateful. I would probably say, like, junior year of college. My roommate and I got an apartment that year. We just had a blast. I mean, we was probably just drunk everyday, OK [laughs] but like in a good way!

It was a pretty carefree life. So like, in terms of having fun that would be the time, but… [thinks] 

I’d actually really like to relive high school. I wish I could take the wisdom I have now back to that time. You know what I mean? To be fair, I did have a good high school experience. I've always been a drifter, so I could go between the cool kids, the math club kids, the theater kids, the cheerleaders. I was in everybody's clique ‘cause that's just the person I am. I just kinda wish I had this level of maturity and understanding and self-awareness…self-confidence, and self-love

I can feel your joie de vivre from here – have you always been this excited about life?

Mmm. I've always been - ah - just an explorer, you know? I'm just naturally curious. And I love learning about myself, other people…just trying to understand. I think life is the best playground. It's such this magical place – like an epic game. [laughs] It has just enough reward, a lot of trauma, a lot of relationships – so many different things that make it the supreme game.

Is that – the explorer thing – something you were just sort of born with, or was it how things were in your household?

It’s natural, but something that’s evolved over time. I'm a big sci-fi person. I Love The Matrix, Inception…Dr. Strange. Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek. I'm a “mental” kind of person — I love movies and art and experiences that make me think about my reality, you know? So it’s something that I've developed over time from consuming information, reading books, and watching movies, interacting with people, my own meditation practice… 

I was actually raised in a Christian household — a very loving household, but… As I got older, I was like, “What's next?”

When did you start asking those questions

I have a very vivid memory of, when I was like 10 or 11, riding in the backseat of the car and looking out the window, lookin’ at the trees going by, and I remember seeing my reflection and realizing, “I'm a person!” That was the first time I had a deep level of self-awareness – that I'm someone experiencing something, you know?

From there, it's just been a life full of pulling back the layers to see who that being was, looking back at this flesh body… 

Mmmm, I love that! Yes!

Yeah, it's been fun. But being raised in a Christian household…like, I love Jesus. But I also feel like Christianity can be very limiting, you know? So, over the years, I've developed the idea of more of a Christ consciousness – consciousness and understanding that we all actually are a part of the Source. 

Yeah, I feel that. [My husband and I] raised our kids in a very uhh…fundamentalist [Christian], structured way. We went way, way overboard. Kids are in therapy, you know? [laughs] So I get you!

[laughs] All kids should be, though! All kids should be.

Writer’s Note: my mom (yes, we work together at Tako!) conducted this interview. Although I am a firm believer in we do the best we can with the tools available to us at the time, and although my mom is my best friendI will be billing her and my dad for my therapy for the foreseeable future. 😬

Where did art come into all of this? When did you realize, “Ah, this is more than just, ‘I like to draw, paint… whatever’”?

It really clicked for me that I could do this as a profession when I moved out to Seattle in 2013 and met a lot of professional artists. I’ve always believed that we are all artists in one way or another, but I think a shift happens where you're like, “Oh, OK, like, I'm able to create something, but I'm also able to go through a currency exchange with somebody for what I created.” That’s another level of commitment, discipline, acknowledgement of self-worth, understanding, and focus.

That's a super long story, short. [laughs] It was definitely a journey. I started off as a registered nurse, working in a hospital in Chicago.

Aramis Hamer paints

OK, well now you’ve got to tell us about that. 

I was fresh out of nursing school – I was 21 and ready to save the world. [laughs] I was working in an ICU step-down unit. My aunt worked at hospitals, so I was actually able to get the hook up. They did not accept new grads straight into critical care. It's usually like: first work at a nursing home, then you go to a medical floor, medical telemetry, and then you adapt if you’re really with it. You either specialize in, like, dialysis or chemo or you go to the ER or ICU. Critical care is the last place you go, and always once you have a lot more experience.

Makes a lot of sense to me!

Exactly. But ya know, I wanna do what I wanna do. [laughs]

So I was 21 and I saw people die for the first time. I had one patient who was 92 years old. She was having trouble sleeping and asked me to read to her. So, I was reading the Lord's Prayer and she took her last breath right at the end. I remember feeling a shift in the room. I was like, “What just happened with the energy in here?” It was peaceful…natural.

So I slowly walked to the nursing station and told my preceptor, “I think my patient just expired.” They immediately ran back there…started chest compressions, intubated her…I was just like, “Oh my God.” 

That experience left a sour taste in my mouth of Western medicine. So I had a buffer year when I was in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner with a cardiovascular subspecialty, then eventually moved out to Seattle to study naturopathy at Bastyr.

I want to emphasize that the team did the right thing. The patient didn't have DNR paperwork so it's protocol to start CPR and intubation if a patient rapidly declines. There were a series of other events and mindset shifts that made me want to pursue natural medicine and this event was one of many. But that energy shift in the room was the main thing – in this scenario – that started my spiritual journey and the process of me asking deeper questions about our existence.

What was that transition like for you – to move away from something it sounds like you were so sure about – critical care nursing? Was it difficult to release it? How did you feel?

It honestly felt like an “unfolding.” We have this language around somebody “taking the leap”, like quitting their job and starting something new. For me, it was more like this slow unfolding of an experience. 

I've come to the understanding over time that you can read all the books, consume all the information, but at the end of the day, there is no definitive answer out there. So it was like, “OK, I'm going to try this…OK, now this.” That’s how it unfolded.

Writer’s Note: to learn more about Aramis’s transition to full-time artist (there’s more to it than what we could cover here!), check out this video.

Makes sense! OK. This next question is a bit long, but I’d like to read it the way I wrote it: For me, your art exudes power – and power in vulnerability. The women you draw are forces of nature;  unapologetic, big, bold, and naked before the world – each in full possession of herself. Every one, a goddess. Drawing from your social media, it seems all of the above characterize the creator, too. Am I on the mark with that? Do you see yourself in the women and worlds you create?

Thank you. I really appreciate that because it's been a journey getting there and yes, I do identify with all those traits. Actually now, I'm working on a self portrait where I'm literally putting myself in a painting. 

I’ve seen it! The one you posted right? You posted an in-progress? 

Yeah! So you say that, and I've heard it from other people as well. I’ve always appreciated it, but for a while, I didn't see it. It was like, I want to paint this other woman. She's bold. She's unapologetic. She's standing in her power, you know? Now, with me creating these self portraits, it's like, you know what, I'm literally about to be that bitch. [laughs]

*Editor's Note: Here's the in-progress. :)

Aramis with painting

YES! [laughs]

It's been years in the making. I've always painted these women because I wanted to be one who harnesses all that power. It's really exciting to feel like I'm in that place now, and in this constant unfolding of change. Because I’m not “there” yet. You know what I mean? 

I like the language of “being” because it’s like, yeah, I am beING – I N G – like it’s happening now, it’s not complete. 

I also want other people to see themselves in that way – as creators in the context of, “I’ve painted this type of woman for so long that I became her.” You literally can create the person you want to be. I do it physically –  I literally paint portraits. But that can be translated to any aspect of our lives. 

Well, I was going to ask what you're trying to communicate with your art, but I think you…just took care of it.

[laughs] That's the core message for sure, but depending on the subject matter or concept I have going on in my mind, there might be more to it. For example, the Zodiac series I just finished, started as just, “Oh, that'll be fun.” [laughs] But its real meaning took shape because of my community. 

I was posting about the series and seeing so many people respond, “Oh, I'm a Gemini!” “I'm a Leo!” People were getting all excited in the comments talking to each other because they're both Leos or whatever. I was like, [thoughtful expression] “Oh, this is really interesting.” 

I feel like astrology is one of those metaphysical concepts we all understand – maybe not as deeply as an astrologer or mystic, but most of us have at least a superficial level of knowledge. Everybody knows their Zodiac signs, right? So, it's a good entry point to spirit source. 

It takes people outside of conventional identity and puts them back in identity in a different way. You might be a Pisces and meet another Pisces, so you connect with them on that level. It don’t matter how old they are, whether they’re Black or white – none of that. People are Pisces. You know what I mean? It adds this sense of unity. That's why I just love astrology in general. 

No matter what, no matter where you come from, we all look up at the same stars. That's our common thread. 

Lovely. What is your favorite experience so far as a professional artist? 

Ooh, my favorite experience. That's such a good question. I have so many though! I can't… oh my goodness… Well, the first thing that came to my mind was the mural I did for the Climate Pledge Arena because I was able to put everything I love in a painting – the purple goddess amongst the stars, in nature, with gold links – I had 100% creative license. The entire proposal I submitted was approved with pretty much no changes.

Climate Pledge Arena mural

I had a blast making that piece. The concept came to me immediately, like a cosmic download. When I read what they wanted it to be about – financial freedom, unity, love – I immediately sketched out the idea that became the final design, right at my kitchen table. It was the purest, most organic commission I've ever had.

Sounds like it's almost as if that thing was present all the time, waiting to unfold for you, and you just had to walk into it.

Yes. When I think about miracles, that's what I think about; when you just have those synchronistic moments of like – boom – one thing just kind of follows right behind another. That's what that project was. This whole year has been magical in a lot of ways. I'm super grateful. Anyway…yes. I love that project. 

Were you there when they installed it or did you walk in and see it done?

I walked in and saw it done. I painted it at my studio, stapled to a wall. I usually paint on a loose canvas. So when I finished it, I rolled it up, and they (the commissioners) took it to a framing company. The night of the arena opening was my first time seeing it actually stretched and framed in glass. My mom came to town, my aunt was in town with me, I vlogged the whole thing… yeah, it was so crazy. 

What's the word for the feeling it gives you to see your art up like that…on display in that arena? So many people are going to walk through and see this thing that is so deeply meaningful to you. What does that feel like? 

I would say the word – or maybe phrase – would be, “full circle” because it’s at Seattle Center. The first mural I painted in Seattle was at Seattle Center. It was the large outdoor KEXP radio mural at 1st Ave and Republican. That was a huge project that put me on the map in Seattle. That was the beginning of my mural career and my career as a professional artist.

Aramis Hamer with KEXP mural

Unfortunately, that piece came down in a way that was actually pretty traumatic and sad. It was supposed to be up for three years, but was taken down after only a year and a half, which we had to negotiate… [sigh]

It's a very long and complicated story, but, pretty much, the Seattle Landmarks Committee didn't want the piece to be on display because it was blocking the gray wall*, which is a landmark wall. I guess it was built in 1962 for the World's Fair and that's when the Seattle Center area was first established. So that gray wall is a historical wall that's protected by the Landmarks Committee.

*Editor’s Note: Here’s the aforementioned….gray wall. We, uh, prefer the enormous, gorgeous purple Black woman, thank you.

Historical grey wall in Seattle, WA

I didn't know this; it wasn’t relevant to me at the time because I was just an artist commissioned by the Office of Arts and Culture. Problem is, it wasn't communicated to the Landmarks Committee that a mural was going up.

So basically three days after I finished it, the Landmarks Committee told me to take it down. I was like, “What the fuck is going on right now?” I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone. 

I've only just started sharing this story, six years later. This was back in 2016, around the time when Michael Brown was murdered. There was a whole lot of protest. The issue with my mural was difficult to navigate because I didn't want us to fuel the flame. Personally, I felt that I was being told to take it down because I painted this giant Black woman. Like, she was unapologetically Black, OK! 

But everyone knew that in advance. When I brought my design to the OAC, I was like, “Let's just point out the elephant in the room: I want to paint a giant purple Black woman at Seattle Center. Is everybody cool with that?” And they were like, “Oh my God. Yes. We love that. Yes, we're good.” 

Then when I was told to take it down, I wondered, is this really what's happening (like, am I actually being asked to do this because of the nature of the art) or is it just how I feel? I only told my husband and closest friends. I went to a couple of board meetings to advocate for my piece staying up. In the end, we negotiated the terms that kept it up for a year and a half instead of three years. 

When it officially came down, I saved the face of the purple woman, ‘cause it was painted on plywood. I still have her in my studio, but the whole thing was 130 feet long – the length of the city block. We cut it up in pieces and I signed them and gave them to friends during this big beach bonfire at Golden Gardens Park. We actually burned the frames of the mural and had a whole healing ceremony. It was beautiful.

Bonfire

(We didn't burn the actual paint ‘cause that's toxic, but we burned the plywood stubs that was holding the mural into place.)

That experience was a catalyst for me. I was like, this city is about to know my name; I'm about to go hard in Seattle. I always kinda had that chip on my shoulder about this goddess having to be taken down. Even having to go to these meetings, having to advocate for the work…it was disgusting.

So, coming back to the Climate Pledge Arena, it was a full circle moment because I was back at Seattle Center for a better project…a dream project, with a dream team who truly loved our work and wanted it up – staying up… 

I actually live just north of Seattle, and I’ve spent a lot of time down there. The city likes to think of itself as very “woke” but really, there's a lot with the Seattle City Council and other people in charge that is quite performative. They've really learned how to say the “right” things. So when you were presenting your concept and they were so enthusiastic in the beginning, who in that room was going to say, “Oh no, I don't feel comfortable with that”? Like, no one, right?

Well, the people who were excited were with the Office of Arts and Culture – and I do enjoy them. I have respect for them because they’ve helped me a lot on my journey through their arts workshops, grants, and a lot of artist support.

What really frustrated me was these meetings. I didn't feel like the OAC advocated for me the way they should have with the Landmarks Committee. There were reps there [who were supposed to support me], but there I was, this 26 year old telling this committee of old white men why my painting should just… [pauses] I felt alone. So I’m not releasing the OAC from guilt, because they definitely could have done better.

Seattle does have that façade you’re talking about, though. I’ve been in the rooms – all the rooms. I've been on the panels, I've been on the boards, actually gotten a deep understanding of how a lot of the arts institutions work. Seattle is known to be, as you say, “woke”. It's also a mecca for art and creativity; but this is a smart city. It all comes down to currency. They know if they have amazing art, it's going to drive more people to come here. It's actually in their financial interest to have beautiful art from diverse artists. So I understand they’re just playing their cards, from a business standpoint, but there’s also a bit of performative allyship going on. 

[pauses]

Look. I’m a business woman. I understand their angle, but let’s be honest: you don’t have to laugh and play, be all smiley smiley when you really just trying to do a business transaction.

Case in point: I, along with 15 other artists, known as Vivid Matter Collective, created this Black Lives Matter mural, totally guerilla style; we didn’t get any kind of permission. We just did it. Later, it was “sanctioned” by the city and the mayor wanted it to be a permanent piece. 

Aramis painting street mural

Aramis at CHAZ

Not everybody was on board to work with the city, and I also got pretty angry; like, you don't really care about Black lives mattering. You understand that this was a historic moment that took place at a historic location (CHAZ) and now people are going to come from all over the world to see it. Don't act like you're giving us anything. We took this block. This isn't the "city's" mural. You're late to the party.

So yeah, Seattle has a smiley face, but in the back room, it’s something else. I know their game. I get frustrated when I feel like someone is trying to take advantage of me.

So, I'm just on a mission to be as independent as I can be, as an artist. That's why I’m on YouTube, social media [Facebook/Instagram], my website, Patreon. For a long time, I was using institutional funds for my creative profession – applying for grants and fellowships. When you’re using somebody else’s money, you don't “bite the hand that feeds you.” 

To be fair, it got me where I am – and I feel like my career has been built on good, authentic relationships – but it's also taken a bit of docility from me. Like, “OK, Aramis…you know how to work this room…don't bark too loud.” 

And now I'm like – you know, I don't care who hears my bark. I don't work for y'all anymore.

Aramis in studio

Mad love to Aramis for her time and energy. Please follow her on all the things -- Instagram, Facebook, YouTube -- support her on Patreon, and keep an eye out for part two of her interview, coming next month. ❤️

Topics: Conversations