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Aramis Hamer Talks About the Power of Representation in the Media for Black History Month

Black History Month, Interviews
photo by Myisa Graham

In celebration of Black History Month, KEXP’s Alina Santillan interviewed numerous local and national African American artists about what Black History Month and Black Future mean to them. Aramis Hamer is a visual artist who painted the mural that used to run along the outside of our building up until October of 2017. It featured cassette tapes, galaxies, and a purple goddess. Aramis talked with us about what Black Future means to her, and about some of her musical influences.

KEXP: What does Black History Month mean to you? 

Aramis Hamer: It's this love/dislike relationship. You know, like where I feel as a black artist, our phones are blowing up in February. You know, it's like, "come out, do this, we want to have this show," and I'm just like, you have a 28 day month. So, it definitely is a time where I do feel that we're acknowledged, but again, it's that whole like/love/dislike relationship. What's really cool though about Black History Month is I feel that I learn a lot of black history and black future. So to even highlight that space for our community and for our culture. There's so many facts to share on social media, all this different stuff. But I really feel it needs to be 365 days of the year. It needs to be a constant conversation. And black artists need to continuously exhibit, perform, show their work everywhere and every month. So that's how I feel about it. 

What do you want the future to look like? 

I want the future to look like freedom. And of course, that's a loaded word. I feel that everything that I stand for and everything that I do is around liberation and that's mentally, spiritually, physically, and all those aspects. So, freedom for women to be able to go the hospital or a doctor, and the doctors understand what's going on in their bodies. Freedom for artists to be able to be paid whatever they're worth. Black, white, purple, green, and, of course, I love painting purple people which was evident from the mural that I had painted for you all. And a photo that still sticks in my mind was, one of my friends had sent me a photo of her seven-year-old daughter, just standing in front the mural just with her hand on her hip, I mean, just like life. OK. She was feeling it, she was just feeling so proud to see this black woman represented in this royal purple who has the same wide nose as she does, who has the same large lips as she does. For me, it's about seeing every person exalted. Even when I say that, what disheartens me is that it feels like some sort of utopia. It sounds cliche in my mind like, "oh, we can all, like, love each other." But really though, I feel that that's 100 percent why we're here. To love one another, to learn from one another, and the only way you can learn is through differences. 

So, to deny differences is to remain ignorant, you know, and have some sort of pride in that. Like, "no, I'm not going to learn about you. I'm not gonna allow you to to learn," which is huge. I feel like when it comes down to black history, that's something that should be said: how literally our people were not allowed to read or write. That goes to show you how powerful knowledge and information can be. You know, it's like, "oh, we'll feed you, we'll give you whatever, but you will not pick up a book." So that's something that's powerful to me. So the future really looks like freedom for people to just like, be themselves unapologetically no matter what vessel you're in. Because I come from the philosophy that we're all spirit beings having this physical experience. So, my physical experience is a black woman and I'm super grateful for this vessel. So, since God relies in each of us, my representation of a god or goddess is the black woman. So I paint her. And that can be whatever representation your vessels is. And mine isn't wrong because my spirit chose this temple. 

Who were your influences growing up? 

Well, I feel like an '80s/'90s babe. I'm right on the cusp 1989, so I feel like those women for me were like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu. Like, I can just be this natural beauty who's just still so confident in who she is while still getting these other messages like, you have to look a certain way. I feel like those black women representations were just even more support for me to really blossom into the person who I am now. So that was that. That was key. You know, it comes down to representation, I'm super excited that we're doing this interview now because Black Panther is coming out. I am so. Oh my God. I hope you all feel this energy. It is absolutely huge for representation. I was talking to my friend and I was trying to explain to him how there is such a poor representation of black people throughout media especially in this superhero world. I mean, obviously my work is really galactic, cosmic, and I love science. I mean, I've just been consuming this stuff since since I was a kid. So, to have these ideas and to see black women represented in this powerful, super regal, goddess, strength. I am ready to quake the movie theater. I have all my friends, we're like, "oh yes, we are watching it three times." This is just history right now. And some people might not even realize it, but I think what's sad is that we don't have a lot of empathy for other people, it's like "oh, whatever. No big deal." It's like, yeah, because all the superheroes been looking like you for the past 100 something years. To have this representation outside of the "angry black woman" or the thug on the TV or you know, the black man who always get killed first in whatever scary movie -- those have been our representation. Here we are with this beautiful, beautiful movie that I'm just so excited about and it definitely comes down to representation because when you see it in your mind, it can become a part of your reality. You know that's where it starts. So to see other people like that, I'm excited for the next generation. 

I follow Kehinde Wiley, another artist who's a huge inspiration for me, absolutely love his work. He had an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. He did a painting of the president and Michelle Obama and I had realized that in '08 when President Obama was first elected, I was 19-years-old. That was the very first time I voted in my life, let alone the first black president. I feel like my ancestors are like, "yaaay!" For me to have this experience that my very first time ever voting was for the first black president, I'm just like so honored. And that speaks to representation. I'm gonna tell my grandkids that -- it wasn't Clinton, Bush, Reagan, it was Barack Obama. I was 19. Yeah, what a powerful experience and a story to be able to pass on. 

Why do you think music matters? 

Music is transformational. It truly is. I feel that music is one of those universal languages. [There's] a sci fi movie, when the aliens come and the way that they were able to communicate was through light and sound. Of course we didn't know their language, they didn't know our language. So I truly feel like sound vibrations and frequency is the ultimate language that goes beyond all the physical realms, goes beyond culture, age, race, the entire spectrum. 

So I feel like that is where messages are able to be communicated on that deep subconscious level. And that's just like basic sound frequency, let alone a melodic song with lyrics and literally poetry in motion. Music has that power to affect you so deeply emotionally. Songs can truly bring me to tears. I've been listening to Alice Coltrane recently. So I actually just learned about her. I mean, we all know John Coltrane, right ?  Absolutely love his work. He's completely amazing. But his wife Alice Coltrane was still creating music after he passed and I had discovered things going down the rabbit hole with the internet. I was like Alice Coltrane what she is an absolutely amazing pianist singer. She plays the harp, songwriter and like guru you know so she actually learned more about the Hindu religion in her life and start creating this amazing meditation music that's been fusing like jazz and meditation. Absolutely incredible absolutely amazing. And one of her songs had just like brought me to tears. It truly did. And she was speaking in Hindu. And I really had no idea what she was saying. But just the energy of the song brought me to tears and I feel like that's how amazing music is. 

For more and a litany of amazing interviews featuring the incredible African-American musical artists that have shaped our lives, click here for all our Black History Month coverage.

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