Visions of Liberation: Solidarity and Healing in the Art of Zaheer Lorraine | Catch My Job


By Yuna Lee

Seattle artist Zaheer Loren was an attorney.

They realized something important in the practice of law. “We can argue the case law over and over again, but when I give my witness statement as a black man and human rights investigator, no one can edit it,” Zaheer explains. In other words, what Zaheer experiences in America is their own undeniable truth.

Today, known as The Artist L. Hajj, Zaheer expresses that truth in visual art that focuses on collective liberation through solidarity and healing. It’s cool and it’s revolutionary.

In the seven years since Zahir began his art career, the former White Center resident has shown his work at Seattle venues Wa Na Wari and the LINK project, with a solo exhibition in 2024 at Lakewood Gardens in Lakewood.

“Turtle,” by Zaheer Lorraine, 2021

A piece of peace

As an artist, Zaheer uses complex repetitions of color, symbols and geometry to impart a sense of serenity, order and infinite possibilities to his work. Each “Peace Piece” is created by hand in ink, acrylic and watercolor. The effect is kaleidoscopic and simultaneously new and ancient, with references from North African rug patterns to cellular structures.

“You need all these parts for the problem,” Zaheer said. “Each piece I create is a tapestry, mathematically that can be seen as separate elements that create a beautiful whole.”

It is an apt metaphor for an ideal society, or “village” as Zaheer often calls it.

While creating a piece – a process that can take months, even years – Zahir 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 for you to be able to pursue your best potential, no matter how society classifies you.”

They emphasize, “Solidarity is an action.”

Inclusion, Solidarity, and Healing

Zahir’s art uses the universal language of geometry and often veers into abstraction, so it resonates with audiences of diverse cultural backgrounds, from Kenya to the Philippines to New Zealand. “It invites people to see something that is a part of them, whoever they are,” explains the artist.

Most of Zaheer’s works are dedicated to specific communities. strengthDraw just before flipping Roe v. WadeA tribute to those with reproductive systems. Galactic Education Zone Schoolhouse/Farmhouse A painting that took six years to complete — proposes a cosmopolitan sustainable village centered on black, indigenous and Latino youth. the turtle It is a memorial to black victims of police killings as well as Palestinians killed by the Israeli army.

“Galactic Education Zone Schoolhouse/Farmhouse,” by Zaheer Loren, 2022

While creating art based on solidarity and inclusion, Zaheer meditates on healing, which is not just an internally driven process, but a collective process of “the village putting its arms around you.” What ultimately heals people, explains the artist, is the richness and wholeness of their experience with their community. Zaheer uses art as an invitation to see and be seen.

“Each piece is always a story – a welcome. It’s a way to bring people into space in their fullness and create peace around them,” says the artist.

A love note to the black community

In the spirit of Afrofuturism, Zahir’s work combines science fiction, history, and fantasy into a utopian vision that advocates black liberation. Black Wall Street Exoplanet Envisions a planet safely located outside the solar system, where black economic prosperity, soul richness and generational wealth can be preserved.

“Black Wall Street Exoplanet,” by Zaheer Loren, 2021

The painting is named after the Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but alludes to other historical attacks on black communities, including the bombing of the Move House in Philadelphia, the Chicago “Red Summer” riots of 1919, and the Secret Flood. Black cities across America.

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

The artist reflects, “I often think [about] What would his life be like if he had the wealth, health and wellness of his generation. If the black people of Tulsa were allowed to prosper. But instead, he grew up eating peanuts and lemons from other people’s trees to survive.” Instead of giving up, as a teenager, she helped her entire family move to California, where Zaheer was born.

Zahir wants to “create dreams and opportunities for your people, honoring the tradition among black people of excellence in pursuit of your highest potential.” For the black community in particular, the artist “felt compelled to create something priceless that uplifts the consciousness of black people and brings a sense of peace, joy and wonder.”

This warmth comes not only from Zaheer’s work on paper, but also from the textiles printed with their artwork. The artist envisions these blankets, patches and tops as a protective garment for the wearer, offering love, imagination and inspiration to “stay at the core of 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 Zaheer?

“People love themselves enough to see the full humanity in other people, despite the identifiers,” they respond. “Having the attitude that ‘everyone brings a gift,’ and what if we put those gifts together? How is that whole boy?”

Zaheer points out that our collective path to freedom can only be found by telling the truth about our individual and intersecting struggles. And in sharing this truth lies the power of connection, possibility and movement, built on a shared foundation.

At the heart of it all

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

Zaheer explains, “At the deepest recesses of the way it’s put together, the meditation is always on self-love, people’s desire to love themselves and everyone in the community to have someone who loves them — and people making it clear to each other that they love and care. does.”

The limitless possibilities created by love, combined with a compassionate desire to uplift all, characterize the artist’s radical and mystical work.

Zaheer concludes, “As Dr. Maya Angelou says, ‘Love always sets free.'”

Zaheer Loren’s website is Catch Zahir as the host of The Solidarity Index, an upcoming cross-continental podcast focusing on Palestinian liberation and the decolonization of the arts.

Yuna Lee is a Seattle-based writer and visual artist. He has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books and The International Examiner, and his art has been shown at venues including Sotheby’s NYC and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. An anti-apartheid activist, Yuna focuses on racial politics and cultural hybridity in her cross-disciplinary work.

📸 Featured Image: Zahir wears their own textile prints in San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Zaheer Lorraine)

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