In Seattle, Decolonization Is a Full-Time Gig
Poet and performing artist Natasha Marin on the Seattle arts community, issues of identity, and the role of the internet in her work.
This article originally appeared on Creators.
The Reparations website is a bit like Craigslist for do-gooders. Created by Seattle conceptual artist Natasha Marin, the forum is a platform for People of Color to post immaterial or material requests that will improve their lives, and for people of privilege and people who identify as White to offer them contributions and services. A typical request is for a little pampering, or for art supplies, or for a mold-free home. Offerings range from job search assistance, to Reiki therapy, to a spare bedroom.
Though it's her most visible project, Reparations is hardly representative of Marin's entire practice. And yet its enterprising, optimistic energy seems to embody her creative spirit. A Pacific Northwest transplant by way of Canada, Marin's work explores both the universal human experience, as well as the ways our realities are shaped by the bodies into which we are born. Creators spoke with Marin about the Seattle arts community, issues of identity, and the role of the internet in her work:
Creators: What kind of artist are you?
Natasha Marin: I am the kind of artist who is passionate about engaging with others. I want my work to be accessible, participatory, relevant, and playful—perhaps even wickedly so. The verbs I keep ever-ready at my side are: connect and provoke—more so than cloister, self-soothe, or coddle. I open my eyes, one at a time each morning to the scalding glare of the internet. And all of the realities contained there. I have children. There are many meaningful tasks that must be done regardless. I move more freely when I can leave my body (and all the circumstances that come with it) behind. But, I do have a body. Like a filter, my experiences wearing a black body—a body assigned female at birth—color everything I create. My educational background is in creative communications—English language, literature, and poetry. I have practiced listening to the spaces between words for years, then strategizing and crafting systems, structures, and spaces that evoke a visceral response. By day, I work as a Digital Engagement Specialist, helping individuals and organizations improve their connections with the communities they serve.
What makes your city unique?
I have done my share of moving around and try to travel as much as possible, but Seattle is the first place I have lived or visited where no matter how one presents, the safest bet is to assume someone is queer unless they specifically state the contrary. I have found this to be both wholesome and liberating. Statistically, people read here. Along with all the fancy literacy comes a really decided progressive voice that might even shame "traditions" as a whole, while also vehemently claiming them. You will see all strata of society reading something in transit or over a coffee. It's also stunningly beautiful what with the volcano, the mountains, and the coastline. I can't think of another place in America where non-binary children would be more accepted at school and in society as a whole.
What is the art community like?
Short Answer: Intricately connected.
When I moved here in 2008, I didn't know more than three people. I didn't realize my friendly and outgoing Canadian roots would be read as anything other than friendly and outgoing. I can recognize the look of quiet horror that some Seattlites have when one tries to make eye contact, or start a conversation. Don't get me wrong—I think the so-called "Seattle Freeze" is really just a whack form of provincial rudeness... But whether I approve or not, it exists. Some folks are content to work within their cliques—never really branching out, or even expressing interest or curiosity beyond this periphery. But others—especially the folx I've met through SPoCS (Seattle People of Color Salon)—have been open to engaging in dynamic collaborations. Long story short, the art community seems to be teeming with talent, although perhaps relatively undiscovered.
Who are other local artists you want to shed light on and why?
There are so many fascinating minds here! Tracy Rector, Inye Wokoma, Anastacia Renee, Humaira Abid and Daniel Carrillo. Tracy is not just a filmmaker, she is a generous and wise woman. Inye is both acutely incisive and consistent—rare qualities in any photographer. Anastacia is undeniably gifted as a poet-performer. Humaira's sculptures transcend what one thought possible. Daniel's fidelity to craft is contagious—he continues to produce exquisite work.
How do you share your work within your community?
Social media has played a huge role in connecting me with my community, which is global. I have done a lot of work in Seattle—I have invested time, energy, and money into working with others to support our community's needs. I host events that allow for participation—at Catharsis, people who needed to cry were veiled into a harmony of release. At Read & Bleed, people assigned female at birth and people who identify as female ate chocolate and drank wine and shared their stories in menstrual attire. I hosted Guilt-Tea, a midnight ritual to alleviate White Guilt, and participated in the only epic durational performance festival: YellowFish.
I also facilitate Community Building, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion events and workshops because I believe that there is anti-racist work to do on every level. Decolonization is a full-time gig.
What are the challenges and struggles of making art in your city?
In many ways, Seattle is a nepotistic circle-jerk. I have said this many times openly. I'm not content with just complaining about things, so shortly after I moved here, I co-founded SPoCS. I did this because it can be a very isolating and lonely experience to be a cultural practitioner of color in this city. To succeed, we need to have a network wherein resources and experience can be shared.
What do you want to share with a national arts community now that you have a chance?
On April Fool's Day this year, the day before my birthday, I invited Seattleites to join me at the Hedreen Gallery for a six-hour durational performance. Several hours in, in an intimate circle, I revealed my secret desire to slap a white woman. A riveting conversation ensued. The conversation itself was art, if it were possible to put a frame around it. A white woman demonstrated her irrevocable power by allowing me my birthday wish. We both took our time to prepare for what we had committed to seeing through and at the moment of connection were both being quite vulnerable. This was a consensual act between two humans trying to understand themselves. It was terrifying and beautiful, the way good art should be.
Click here to visit the Reparations website.