Tariqa Waters: 'I Don't Need to Make Any Apologies For What I Do As An Artist'

June 22, 2017

Local artist, curator and educator Tariqa Waters has made an undeniable mark on Seattle’s art scene since her arrival in 2012. Between her many projects, including hosting a conversation as part of this year’s Seattle Art Fair, Waters makes time to mentor and inspire the next generation of artists. We caught up with Waters at her art space, Martyr Sauce in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, to talk about this year’s Art Fair. Our visit coincided with a group of students visiting from the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) teen program that provides teens with the opportunity to visit local galleries, museums and artists involved with fair and create a guide for young visitors attending the fair.

You’re an artist, curator, gallerist, and teacher among the many things you do. What is your motivation?

My kids. It’s important that they see and experience range in the arts. I also want to show by example how they can diversify their creativity and resist classifications.

You’ve branded yourself, so to speak, as Martyr Sauce. How important was this in making a name for yourself when you arrived to Seattle?
I hadn’t really considered, “making a name for myself,” but I did want to help define how I would be perceived. I knew coming in that Seattle is culturally unfamiliar to me and, by the same token, I’m unfamiliar to it. That said, I was aware of the potential for pigeonholing, being thrown into a one dimensional, this-or-that type of ‘black woman’ box. Having this umbrella called, Martyr Sauce affords me space to navigate and some leverage in shaping perceptions.

I’m always excited to see new art. I’m excited about the dynamic the fair brings to [Pioneer Square].

You lived in Atlanta before moving here. What was the transition like?

Traveling a lot helps. Atlanta was an eye opener. I wasn’t expecting it to be so machismo and male-dominant. There was the way men, and artists, carried themselves with this bravado, and it was very unapologetic. It’s much more female-dominant here. I didn’t really even realize it. But when I came here, I was like ‘OK, great. I don’t need to make any apologies for what I do as an artist.’

In what ways has the city’s art scene changed since you first arrived?

I’m part of it now!

Waters shares the inspiration and story behind her piece, "Deadbeat," during a recent visit from SAM teens.

What is something you’re excited for at this year’s Seattle Art Fair?

I’m always excited to see new art. I’m excited about the dynamic the fair brings to this neighborhood (Pioneer Square) and I’m really fortunate to have seen it through its first year until now. Each year, I’m really excited about how it’s going to change. This year I’m looking at it as more of an Art Basel, Miami kind of thing, where you have the fair and then you have all of the surrounding things interacting together. I think it’s really important for it to be community oriented and I think this year it’s going to be that.

With almost 90 galleries coming to this year’s fair, do you make a plan for the fair so you don’t miss anything?

I just like to walk in. I have this whole thing about walking in and not wanting to know. I think I’ll just be popping up all around in there — that’s what it’s about.

You’re giving a talk at the fair, how did that come about?

I was contacted to do a talk by the fair’s artistic director Laura Fried, which was really exciting. How cool is this — so she called me and she said ‘I’ve got a proposal for you: Would you like to do a talk at the art fair? You’re going to lead it and you get to bring any artist that you want to talk to.’ The hardest thing I think was finding just one artist. But it just came to me: Clyde Petersen. We both mix story telling/figurative narrative with humor and satire to provide context in our art. He’s a great collaborator and has such strong creative vision. It’s the perfect intersection to base a good conversation…between common ground and varied experience and perspectives.

What are you hoping people get out of your talk?

The same that I’m hoping to get out of it: A good conversation that broadens understanding. I hope it will be confrontational and uncomfortable at times, but mostly full of ideas, attitude and laughter.

If you were to begin your career today, what advice would you give to the next generation of artists?

Speak your mind. Damn the consequences.