Zahyr wears their own textile print at San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico

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

by Yoona Lee

Seattle artist Zahyr Lauren used to be an attorney.

They realized something important in practicing law. Zahyr explains, “We can argue back and forth about case law, but when I give my witness statement as a Black person and human rights investigator, nobody can edit that.” In other words, what Zahyr has experienced in America is their own indisputable truth.

Today, known as The Artist L.Haz, Zahyr channels that 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 their art career, the former White Center resident has shown their work at Seattle venues Wa Na Wari and the LiiNK Project, with a solo exhibition accompanied by musical performances at Lakewood’s Lakewold Gardens in 2024.

“Turtle,” by Zahyr Lauren, 2021

A Piece of Peace

As an artist, Zahyr uses intricate repetition of color, symbols, and geometry to impart a sense of tranquility, order, and infinite possibility in their work. Each “piece of peace” is exquisitely crafted by hand in ink, acrylic, and watercolor. The effect is kaleidoscopic and simultaneously new and ancient, with references ranging from North African rug patterns to cellular structure.

“In order to get to the sum, you need all these parts,” says Zahyr. “Each piece I make is a tapestry, mathematically born of what could be seen as separate components that create a beautiful whole.” 

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

When producing a piece — a process that can take months, even years — Zahyr meditates on solidarity and what it means to create this village. They explain, “For me, as someone Black and on the trans spectrum, solidarity is people being in community, being good neighbors, and fighting for you to be able to pursue your greatest potential, no matter how you are categorized by society.” 

They emphasize, “Solidarity is an action.”

Inclusion, Solidarity, and Healing

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

Much of Zahyr’s work is dedicated to specific communities. Power, painted just before the overturn of Roe v. Wade, is an homage to those with reproductive systems. Galactic Education Zone Schoolhouse/Farmhouse a painting that took six years to finish — proposes a cosmic sustainable village that would center Black, Indigenous, and Latine youth. Turtle is a memorial to Black police murder victims, as well as Palestinians murdered by the Israeli military.

“Galactic Education Zone Schoolhouse/Farmhouse,” by Zahyr Lauren, 2022

While producing art based in solidarity and inclusion, Zahyr meditates on healing, which is not only an internally driven process, but a collective one of “the village putting its arms around you.” What’s ultimately healing for people, the artist explains, is to be seen for the richness and entirety of their experience, along with their community’s experience. Zahyr uses art as an invite to see and be seen.

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

A Love Note 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. Black Wall Street Exoplanet imagines a planet, safely located beyond the solar system, where Black economic prosperity, opulence of spirit, and generational wealth can be protected.

“Black Wall Street Exoplanet,” by Zahyr Lauren, 2021

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

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

The artist reflects, “I often think [about] what her life would have been like if she’d had generational wealth, health, and wellness. If Black people in Tulsa were allowed to thrive. But instead, she grew up eating peanuts and lemons off other people’s trees in order to survive.” Rather than giving up, as a teenager, she helped relocate her whole family to California, where Zahyr was born.

Zahyr honors “the tradition among Black people of excellence in pursuit of your highest potential, desiring to create dreams and opportunity for your people.” For the Black community especially, the artist feels compelled to produce “something inestimable that uplifts the spirit of Black folks 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 artwork. The artist envisions these blankets, patches, and tops as a protective cloak for the wearer, imparting love, imagination, and inspiration to “be rooted 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 to Zahyr? 

“People loving themselves enough to see the full humanity in other people, despite identifiers,” they respond. “Having this spirit of ‘everybody brings a gift,’ and what happens if we put those gifts together? How does that buoy the whole?” 

Our collective path to freedom can only be found by telling the truth about our distinct and intersecting struggles, Zahyr notes. And in sharing this truth lies the power of connectivity, possibility, and movement, all built on a shared foundation. 

At the Heart of It All

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

Zahyr explains, “In the deepest recesses of the way it’s put together, the meditation is always on the love for myself, the wish that people have love for themselves, and everyone in community has someone who loves them — and people make it clear to each other that they’re loved and cared for.” 

The boundless potential created by love, coupled with a compassionate desire to uplift all, characterizes the artist’s radical and transcendent work. 

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

Zahyr Lauren’s website is Catch Zahyr as the host of The Solidarity Index, an upcoming cross-continental podcast that focuses on Palestinian liberation and decolonization of 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 shown at venues that include 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 cross-disciplinary work.

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

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