Visions of Liberation: Solidarity and Healing in the Art of Zahyr Lauren


by Yoona Lee

Seattle artist Zahyr Lauren was a lawyer.

They have achieved something important in the practice of law. Zahyr explains, “We can argue about case law, but when I give my witness statement as a black person and human rights investigator, no one can change it. In other words, what Zahyr experienced in America is their own indisputable truth.

Today, known as The Artist L.Haz, Zahyr channels this truth into visual art that focuses on collective liberation through solidarity and healing. It’s quiet and it’s revolutionary.

In the seven years since Zahyr began his artistic career, the former White Center resident has shown his work at Seattle venues Wa Na Wari and the LiiNK Project, with a solo exhibition accompanied by musical performances at Lakewold Gardens. of Lakewood in 2024.

“Turtle”, by Zahyr Lauren, 2021

A piece of peace

As an artist, Zahyr uses an intricate repetition of colors, symbols, and geometry to convey a sense of tranquility, order, and endless possibilities in his work. Each “piece of peace” is beautifully hand-crafted in ink, acrylic and watercolor. The effect is kaleidoscopic and both new and old, with references ranging from North African rug patterns to cellular structure.

“To get to the sum, you need all of these coins,” says Zahyr. “Every piece I make is a tapestry, born mathematically from what could be considered separate components that create a beautiful whole.”

It’s an apt metaphor for an ideal society, or “the village” that Zahyr often speaks of.

During the production of a play – a process that can take months or even years – Zahyr meditates on solidarity and what it means to create this village. They explain, “For me, as a Black person and on the trans spectrum, solidarity is about people being in community, being good neighbors and fighting so that you can pursue your greatest potential no matter how you are categorized by society.

They emphasize that “solidarity is an action”.

Inclusion, Solidarity and Healing

Zahyr’s art uses the universal language of geometry and often veers into abstraction, so it resonates with viewers from diverse cultural backgrounds, from Kenya to the Philippines to New Zealand. “It invites people to see something that is part of themselves, no matter who they are,” explains the artist.

Much of Zahyr’s work is dedicated to specific communities. Powerpainted just before the overthrow of Roe vs. Wadeis a tribute to those with reproductive systems. Galactic Education Zone School/Farm a painting that took six years to complete – proposes an enduring cosmic village that would center black, indigenous and Latino youth. Tortoise is a memorial to the victims of murder by black police, as well as Palestinians murdered by the Israeli army.

“Galactic Education Zone School/Farm”, by Zahyr Lauren, 2022

While producing art based on solidarity and inclusion, Zahyr meditates on healing, which is not just an internal process, but a collective process of the “village that puts its arms around you”. What ultimately heals people, the artist explains, is to be seen for the richness and wholeness of their experience, as well as the experience of their community. Zahyr uses art as an invitation to see and be seen.

“Each piece is always a story – a welcome. It’s a way of bringing people into the space in their fullness and creating a peace around them,” explains the artist.

A note of love to the black community

In the spirit of Afrofuturism, Zahyr’s work combines science fiction, history and fantasy into utopian visions that support black liberation. Wall Street Dark Exoplanet imagine a planet, safely located beyond the solar system, where the economic prosperity, opulence of spirit and generational wealth of black people can be protected.

“Dark Exoplanet of Wall Street”, by Zahyr Lauren, 2021

The painting is named after the Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but alludes to other historic attacks on the black community, including the MOVE House bombing in Philadelphia, the “Red Summer” riots ” of Chicago in 1919 and the secret floods. black towns across America.

Zahyr’s own grandmother grew up just 40 minutes from Tulsa.

The artist reflects: “I often think [about] what her life would have been like if she had had generational wealth, health and well-being. If blacks in Tulsa were allowed to prosper. But instead, she grew up eating peanuts and lemons off other people’s trees to survive. Rather than give up, as a teenager she helped move her entire family to California, where Zahyr was born.

Zahyr honors “the tradition among black people of excellence in pursuit of your highest potential, eager to create dreams and opportunities for your people.” For the black community in particular, the artist feels compelled to produce “something priceless that uplifts the spirit of black people and brings a sense of peace, joy and wonder”.

Not only does this warmth emanate from Zahyr’s work on paper, but also from the textiles printed with their works. The artist envisions these blankets, patches, and tops as a protective cloak for the wearer, bestowing love, imagination, and inspiration to “be grounded in who you are and be creative enough to bring what you want into the world.”

The Future: Collective Liberation

So what does collective liberation look like for Zahyr?

“People love themselves enough to see all the humanity in others, despite IDs,” they reply. “Having this spirit of ‘everyone brings a gift,’ and what if we put those gifts together? How does that shake things up? »

Our collective path to freedom can only be found by speaking the truth about our separate and intersecting struggles, notes Zahyr. And in sharing this truth lies the power of connectedness, possibility and movement, all built on a common ground.

At the heart of it all

Besides solidarity and healing, what drives Zahyr’s creative practice?

Zahyr explains, “In the deepest recesses of how it’s put together, the meditation is always about loving myself, wanting people to love themselves, and everyone in the community has someone who loves them — and people make it clear to each other that they are loved and cared for.

The limitless potential created by love, combined with a compassionate desire to uplift everything, characterizes the artist’s radical and transcendent work.

Zahyr concludes, “As Dr. Maya Angelou said, ‘Love always liberates’.”

Zahyr Lauren’s website is Check out Zahyr as host of The Solidarity Index, an upcoming cross-continental podcast that focuses on Palestinian liberation and decolonization in the arts.

Yoona Lee is a Seattle-based writer and visual artist. She has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books and The International Examiner, and her art has been featured at venues such as Sotheby’s NYC and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. An anti-racist activist, Yoona focuses on racial politics and cultural hybridity in her interdisciplinary work.

📸 Featured Image: Zahyr wears his own textile print in San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Zahyr Lauren)

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