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The art world can be an intimidating place. From high-end, white-walled, and primarily white-owned gallery spaces, to the barriers of entry for artists considered outside of the mainstream including LGBTQ and artists of color, and lest we not forget the often exorbitant prices of artwork, it's no wonder many folks believe this space isn't a place for them. But just like the mixed media installations, sweatshirts, and tote bags she creates with her signature phrase, award-winning artist, curator, and gallerist Tariqa Waters says "NO" to all of that nonsense.

A light-skinned Black woman eating Chinese take out with bubble gum pink hair and white rollerskates sits on top of the letters "NO" with a bright blue background
"NO" mixed media installation, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Bursting onto the Seattle art scene in 2012 by way of Virginia, a four-year detour to Sicily, Washington DC., and then Atlanta, Tariqa opened Martyr Sauce—whose name is derived from a silly phrase her son used to blurt when upset—an unconventional gallery space in Pioneer Square built into the stairwell of her family's apartment. Martyr Sauce quickly became known for Waters' vibrant, tongue-in-cheek artwork displayed in the windows and stairwell, as well as being THE first Thursday spot with rotating exhibits from at the time up-and-coming artists including Jazz Brown, Aramis O. Hamer, Tracy Clayton, Jake Millet, Zorn B. Taylor, and a handful of raucous musical performances

Disrupting the conventional white-box gallery setting continues to be one of Waters' missions, as she conceptualizes new and innovative ways to create space for Black artists, particularly Black girls, the so-called weirdos, anyone who's "down to do something crazy and cool," or who has felt like an outsider in traditional art spaces. Eventually relocating in 2016 from Martyr Sauce's original stairwell location to a funky, under-ground, multi-use gallery space just around the corner on Jackson Street, Tariqa knuckled down on her larger-than-life pop art and multi-media displays. Amidst a fresh rotation of curated exhibits and hosted performances by hot acts like Liv Warfield, The Black Tones, and DoNormaal, a selection of stylish merchandise was added to the mix, quickly making Martyr Sauce an underground staple for the city, literally and physically.

During the pandemic, when many storefronts were closing, including her neighbor, vintage athletic clothing company Ebbets Field Flannels, Waters bucked the system, conceiving MS. PAM (Martyr Sauce Pop Art Museum), a street-level extension of the gallery that moved into the former clothing company's storefront. Not to be outdone, she began plotting its companion piece, the educational arts show Thank You, MS. PAM. One part Pee-Wee Herman's Playhouse, one part Chappelle's Show, with a hefty sprinkle of Mr. Rogers, Tariqa has managed to whisk up all of those pop culture inspirations into a concoction uniquely her own, and most important, she's cooked up yet another vehicle to showcase talented artists.

A beautiful black woman with long turquoise and pink hair rides a photoshopped pink unicorn in front of her art gallery space in Pioneer Square
"Untitled." Mixed media self-portrait collage celebrating Martyr Sauce Pop Art Museum 2021. Courtesy of the artist.

With Thank you, MS. PAM strategically segmented into a series of vignettes, featured artists now have access to high-quality samples of their work that can be used for securing funding and other arts opportunities. Guests on the show include an eclectic mix of creatives, from tattooists to dancers, musicians, visual artists, chefs, her son 9 Coleman-Harvey as the in-house DJ, and so much more. As Waters told Crosscut for Black Arts Legacies, “I want [their work] to be documented well so that they don't feel like the only place that happens is in an institution where the old guard resides.”

As a partner with the 2023 Seattle Art Fair, happening July 27th through the 30th, the public will have multiple opportunities to interact with Martyr Sauce and Tariqa's creations. Accompanying a selection of public partner pieces placed between gallery booths at the fair, you will find Waters' latest, 4th Sunday, three large-scale sculptures, at least one featuring a giant vintage church fan with ball barrettes that is meant to depict an allegory of stillness without resolution. True to form, she reimagines and constructs by hand culturally important Black items in a "lampoon to consumerism and the sticky contradictions inherent in vices rooted in Americana-distorted memories and tall tales."

Along with her sculpture, on opening night of the fair, you can experience Thank You, MS PAM: In Front of a Live Studio Audience! Located in the Seattle Art Fair Collector's Lounge, the show starts at 6:30 PM and will be filmed in front of a live studio audience of fair attendees. Boasting a wonderland experience celebrating local artists and creatives, there will be surprise guests, comedy sketches, playful performances with audience participation mixed in, and of course, DJ 9 on the ones and twos. ARTE NOIR will be there and it goes without saying you should be too! If you need any more convincing, enjoy a preview episode below, courtesy of The Seattle Channel.

It comes as no surprise that Tariqa was recently named One of Seattle's Most Influential Artists. Throughout her time in Seattle, she has exhibited in numerous local galleries and institutions including The Hedreen Gallery; Northwest African American Museum; Frye Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum; and this past spring presented her five-part glass immersive installation at The Museum of Museums. She also curated the highly anticipated group show, "Yellow No. 5" at Bellevue Art Museum, and was a co-founder of "Re:definition at The Paramount" along with the late-great, legendary hip-hop and arts scene fixture, Jonathan Moore—a yearly rotating exhibit highlighting artists of color and once again providing a platform to creatives who might otherwise be overlooked. Furthermore, she has also amassed a number of accolades and awards including the 2016 Conductive-Garboil Grant. The Artist-Trust- Fellowship Award; The Seattle Art Museum’s Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award; The Gary Glant Special Recognition Award; The Neddy at Cornish Open Medium Award; and the Arts Innovative Award. Oh, and she has her very own, first-of-its-kind crosswalk mural! We expect there will be more.

At first glance, Tariqa Waters and her many accomplishments may strike some as yet another intimidating aspect of the art world. We, however, can assure you that her whip-smart creative acumen is only bested by an infectious sense of humor, a charming love of all things pop culture and zany, as well as a genuinely deep sense of commitment to uplifting her fellow creatives and the next generation of artists. And while Martyr Sauce's physical space in Pioneer Square recently closed up shop, we know Tariqa has something exceptional planned for her next artistic venture! Until then, you can catch her at Seattle Art Fair or keep an eye out for her technicolor blend of humor and social commentary on her show, Thank you, MS. PAM, and throughout the city at large.

Beautiful black woman with short turquoise braided hair in a stylish red jumpsuit poses in front of her large-scale art installations, pop art versions of Bubblicious gum
Image from Thank you, MS. PAM promo, courtesy of the artist


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