“What I'm trying to do with my life … is to continually think about the ways I can be an asset to humans in general, but Black people in specific. And wanting to share … and use my art to benefit all the people who are doing the same.”
– The Artist L.Haz
Welcome to Episode 4 of THE SOLIDARITY INDEX! Join producer Stina Hamlin as she flips the script with host Zahyr Lauren aka The Artist L.Haz to talk origins – from the name, wave, and vision of this podcast, to Zahyr’s powerful story of family, frontline work, and finding new life as a self-taught artist.
Zahyr’s creative practice encompasses drawing, painting, textiles, fashion, wood, leather, metal, murals, and site-specific installations. Their work is a meditation on the question – What if we were free?
Keep up with Zahyr on Instagram: @zahyr_theartist_lhaz
IN THIS EPISODE: Real Rent Duwamish / Nappy Nina / Harpo Studios / Black Wall Street / Red Summer / Southern Center for Human Rights / Lambda Legal / Ahmaud Arbery / Breonna Taylor / Ahed Tamimi / Sunrise Movement / White Rage book / The New Jim Crow book / The 1619 Project / Caste book / Freedom is a Constant Struggle book / MUSIC: Determination by Justin Delorme & Chippewa Travelers, MoneyMenace by Justin Delorme [Nagamo Publishing]
Tune in to THE SOLIDARITY INDEX on your favorite podcast platform, and keep up with us on Instagram. Sign up for The Solidarity Index newsletter to receive new episodes direct to your inbox.
THE SOLIDARITY INDEX podcast is produced by State of Mind Media
Hosted by Zahyr Lauren aka The Artist L.Haz
Created and produced by Jen Bell, Shalva Wise, Stina Hamlin, and Zahyr Lauren Audio editing and production by Stina Hamlin
Audio mix by Matt Gundy
Logo and identity design by Marwan Kaabour
Art direction, website and additional design by Jen Bell at Studio Analogy
Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou
Released on Common Groove (2023)
All proceeds from download and streaming go to the Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation
THE SOLIDARITY INDEX EPISODE 4:
We Are That Wave – with Zahyr Lauren aka The Artist L.Haz
Okay. Thank you… Thank you, Stina. [STINA: Okay, cool.] All right, let's get it.
[Waves surging then crashing]
Before a wave crashes the shoreline, it has to become this giant thing. It is motion. There's a rising up from behind and below that overtakes the top and bursts across borders. Waves are something that you can't see until you see them. So there's just so much underground movement and motion and build-up and power and strength and energy that is coming through a wave. We are that wave.
[Waves surging then crashing]
[MUSIC] Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:00:53]
The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free – until everybody is free. Free… Free… Free.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Solidarity Index: Inside Out episode.
Welcome. Welcome. Let's go.
We're gonna go deep with our amazing host, Zahyr Lauren, aka The Artist L.Haz, so we can learn more about their artwork, their heart-work, and deconstruct the origin story of our first season, and share our plans and visions for this podcast. Here's a little bit more about Zahyr or the Artist L.Haz. They are a multi-media artist whose creative practice encompasses drawing and painting, textiles and fashion, wood, leather, metal, murals, and site specific installations. They come from a powerful Southern Black matriarchy that migrated to California with nothing, then made something for generations to come. Zahyr's creations are a dedication to the resilience, brilliance and beauty of their family, and to the shared humanity that has us all struggling and triumphing together.
[MUSIC] Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:02:35]
Free… Free… Free… Free… Free.
My name is Stina Hamlin.
Hello. So I'm one of four co-creators, along with Shalva Wise, Jen Bell, and of course, you, Zahyr, our host. And I'm going to describe myself: So I have brown and gray, curly hair. I have curly bangs. It's a trend, I hopped on that. I have olive skin, brown eyes, and I have these giant disc earrings [Z: Fly.] I wanted to inspire you to make your own version of these with your artwork.
So funny - I was talking about that last night. I've got a line comin.
Yayyy! Okay well, I'm gonna be rockin those for sure. And, I'm joining you from uptown Manhattan, also known as Lenapehoking Lenni Lenape unceded territory. Just lookin at the trees and the breeze, and in my apartment.
Word. I am in Seattle, Washington, which is actually Duwamish territory. And if folks want to contribute to the Duwamish people, you can contribute to Real Rent Duwamish. I am a Black gender-expansive human being who is currently wearing a black sweater with the homie's logo on it. If you never heard of Nappy Nina you're gonna wanna check out her music. Fly Fire. I'm also wearing glasses. People tell me these glasses look like the Malcolm X glasses.
I love the rent. I love all these Land Back movements. All the reparations for all the people. Well let's talk about The Artist L.Haz.
The Artist L.Haz - the name is just my name backwards. So my name is Zahyr Lauren, and Lauren is the L. A lot of people call me Zah, so Haz is Zah backwards. And I got that idea mostly from - shout out to Oprah Winfrey. Harpo Studios is Oprah backwards. And 'The Artist' component of it comes from Prince, who was 'the artist formerly known as Prince.' I love Prince so much I have his symbol tattooed on my leg. Prince, to me, is the ultimate in I don't care what y'all are talkin about around gender I'm aware what I want Do what I want and still get more looks from the beautiful ladies of the world than those of you who hate my fashions ever will. And his music, of course, is just remarkable. So 'the artist formerly known as Prince.' I *am* the artist. The artist is my identity. I think if anyone was asked to ask me really like - who are you? I am the artist. That is, I'm living and breathing it in everything that I do. So that's where the name came from.
I love that. And sometimes people call you Z.
So and then your website is -
Koro. K-O-R-O. Koro is my middle name. Koro Rules The Sun came from this idea that everyone who operates from sun up to sun down with their heart and minds on the people, whatever the people means... Who operates with their minds on trying to produce and provide offerings to make human life better... To me, those are the people who rule the sun. And so Koro Rules The Sun is just me acknowledging that what I'm trying to do with my life and all of its imperfections is to continually think about the ways I can be an asset to humans in general, but Black people in specific. And wanting to share and extend and use my art to benefit all the people who are doing the same. You know, I've created work that is an offering of solidarity between Black and Mexican people. I've created pieces that are specific to the life and freedom of women of trans experience, especially Black women of trans experience, and their right to live - just live, walk down the street unbothered, point blank. Right? So there's these pieces that have these different stories of them that are not limited to Black culture, but Black culture is always included because I am Black and I rep - I rep my people to the day I die.
Nice. So Koro Rules The Sun - this piece that's on your landing page, it's so beautiful. Is this - is the Black Wall Street piece?
Yeah, it's the Black Wall Street Exoplanet.
It's amazing. So for all of our listeners, Kora Rules The Sun. So it's K-O-R-O dot ink [Z: i n k.] Yeah, I N K because you're gonna be hopefully doing some tattoos [Z: Facts.] So everyone needs to like, line up on that, sign up for that waiting list because I mean - it's a long list I am sure, so far. For real.
For sure. I can't wait.
[MUSIC] Determination – by Justin Delorme and Chippewa Travelers [00:08:16]
Your story is so inspiring, dealing with the things that you dealt with in your previous career before you were a full time artist and podcast host. Who ARE You, Zahyr...?
Who AM I...? I would say the journey for me started very young. I've had two exceptional parents who always made us understand that even though we are under a microscope because of our skin colors, we are just as good as the next human being. My mom used to always tell us, it doesn't matter if somebody is the janitor or the president - you treat everybody exactly the same. And - as we grew up, we experienced more interactions, different kinds of violence at the hands of the police, my brothers and I. And there is one instance in particular that happened when I was 13 or 14 that involved a family member that really changed my life, because had anything gone slightly differently - we could have lost this person. And so after what happened to my family member, I really started to think, like, How can I get revenge? That was my first thought at 13. How can I get revenge on these coppers?
And then as I began to develop, I began to study the Black Panther Party. I began to study different movements in the human story of this country. And what I noticed is that they were not about revenge. They were about elevating the community. They were about elevating their own communities, and they were about protection, knowledge, political discourse, being involved, advancing us. And so although I still had this deep wound in my spirit because of what happened to my family member, I started to try and lead with that. When I graduated from college, I was asked to be a union organizer in Biloxi and Tunica, Mississippi. So then I was exposed to Black folks who were still picking cotton.
And this is in like 2009, 2010. I was exposed to Black and Latinx folks who are - work in the back of these different casinos, who essentially had no rights. And these are the people that I was working with to organize. The *amount* that I learned from the Black elders in Mississippi, the way that they build community, the way they organize, the way they stepped into their power, the way they lead... One of the dopest things for me in Mississippi was watching that and also, like, just being this young kid that they never use my name - they just call me California. So I would hear one of the aunties from from across the room - she'd be like, Hey, California, get over here. [LAUGHTER] Like, you know - like [LAUGHTER] But that was also the first time I had seen cotton fields in person. And I'm Black, but I'm from California. So my lineage, you know, we have - we're descendants of formerly enslaved, but I had never seen that. And so I remember that vibration driving through this cotton field. I stopped my car, went into the cotton fields, and called all my family members, just because of the vibe of it was so raw and like wild for me.
[MUSIC] Determination – by Justin Delorme and Chippewa Travelers [00:12:01]
And so after being a union organizer, I ended up working at the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is in Georgia. And so there I did impact litigation and worked on a defense side capital murder case. The country's caging conditions created by really racialized capitalism, and that plagues mostly working class and poor people. So you see Black people, Indigenous people, Latinx/a/e folks who are affected by poverty, sickness, mental health, etcetera… That's a lot of who you see in the cages. Obviously you do see poor white folks as well, but they're not the racialized targets of systemic oppression, and they're caged at percentages far less than Black, Latinx and Indigenous people. So instead of investing in healing, access, economic freedom and community led safety initiatives, we cage and criminalize. But the real barbarians are generally outside of the gates.
So, then I thought - Well, after that job, I think that I should go the attorney route because that's the next layer of discovery and what it means for this system to keep running. So then I worked in New York as a lot of different things: a policy advocate, I worked with young folks who were going in on gun charges, I worked to coach parents who were coming up for parole, I did a lot of different things... I was a mitigation specialist and I worked on some class action stuff for Lambda Legal, as well, as their Tyron Garner Fellow. And again - Witnessing. So all of this for me has been about witnessing. Witnessing the ways in which this country intentionally puts us in these positions to be swept into this system. And my being an attorney and investigator, both times I experienced a bodily issue that signified that my body was shutting down. So after I did a little over three years as an investigator - my hair fell out, like, completely, like a baby, like a patch in the back of my head. The second time it happened was as I was leaving my legal profession.
I lost my ability to walk, completely. My whole right leg just completely shut down. And that's when I was like, This is something that I can't keep doing, because I can't maintain it physically. And the physical elements were coming because of the stress and the trauma that I was experiencing on the job. I just want to be clear: The trauma that I was experiencing in the cages, and working with folks who were coming in and leaving the cages, is second hand trauma. I wasn't even in the cage. I didn't have to stay there. But my brain is replaying the sound of peoples' shackles as they're being taken back into this torture chamber. My brain is replaying how I have seen people who had just had their heads beat open - and having to interview them about what the guards did to them. My brain is replaying meeting a brother who had his hearing beat out of his ear because a female guard liked him and the male guards didn't like that she liked him, so they took him out into the hallway, handcuffed and beat him until he lost his hearing. [STINA: Damn.] Which is why I'm saying the barbarians are outside the gates.
The stress of that is why my body shut down and I didn't have any outlets at the time. So... You know, I became an artist because I recognized the ways that doodling took my mind off of this stuff, it was a stress reliever. To the point where I did it obsessively and have been doing it obsessively now, for - this is my seventh year.
Wow. How did you start to walk again?
Yeah, so I couldn't walk for like 4 or 5 days, something like that. Every time I stepped on my leg it was like excruciating pain. And so what happened was I ended up going to acupuncture for I think - I went to acupuncture for like three months after that with the help of a cane. And the help of someone else coming with me. And the acupuncturist, he was like, Whatever you're doing - your whole system is like 80 plus years old. Like, whatever you're doing - stop it, because your circulation is not working.
And how old were you?
I was 29. 29 years old with a cane, walking with a cane for months. And so, you know, in the practice of doing the art, I just took more and more time. I would do like 2 or 3 hours before work and like 4 or 5 after work, of drawing, every single night. My first show in Brooklyn was a culmination of my first two years of drawing, and I showed I think a little over 40 pieces, something like that, because I was doing it obsessively. I had to. That's the only way my brain would, like, relax.
[MUSIC] Determination – by Justin Delorme and Chippewa Travelers [00:18:00]
Because I'm Black, you know, the work is specific to Black folks and trying to draw into the art some type of healing, and acknowledgment of how regal we are, and acknowledgment of what we've contributed to society. So in a sense, I'm trying to bring to life the opposite of what we're living. A lot of the times I'm trying to bring to life a reflection of our potential and our capabilities - if we were just left alone. I'm trying to bring to life a part of us as Black people that is untouchable. Unassailable. Like its protected. You know, it's - it's Black Wall Street. It's all the cities and towns in the U.S. that were flourishing before the Red Summer. It's all the cities and towns that were flourishing before they were flooded. It's all the ways in which if we had have just been left alone, we would be flourishing. That's what the art is trying to reflect.
I can see that. If I'm trying to like sonically describe how your work visually looks - there's lots of lines and patterns and beautiful colors. It's very multidimensional, and it seems like some of them carry multiple stories, like stories upon stories and feelings upon feelings. How do you even start? You know, how do you begin?
So a lot of people think there's like a plan for every piece, there's some type of blueprint or pre-sketch. But I don't plan anything. I don't do no pre-sketching, no digital work. My mandate for every piece is that I learn and use a new tool. So maybe I learned a new watercolor technique. Maybe I learned something about perspective. I'm completely self-taught, so my school is every piece. So I listen to Creator. I listen to the universe. I listen to life in that moment, and I teach myself something new for every piece.
I think a good story-on-top-of-story piece is probably the Turtle piece that I have. The positive of that piece was attempting to draw a turtle for my god-baby, who was like three at the time and in love with turtles. And... I found out a month into that piece that Ahmaud Arbery had been murdered by a group of what I call white delusionists - who hunted him and killed him. And then I found out a few days after that, I feel like, that another group of white delusionists - clad in police uniforms - murdered Breonna Taylor. And so then the diamonds in that piece that flank the turtle all became odes and names of Black women and girls in this country who have been murdered by the police. The turtle is floating kind-of above the world. And so to me, it's kind of like a - a meditation on, again, what if we were free? What if we were able to float above all this? What if we were just able to go about our business? What if we were able to go on a jog? Like, you know… What if we were able to sleep in our own homes? This is, you know, it's like revolutionary thoughts about us just being not bothered.
I was also thinking about Ahed Tamimi and her family. It's a Palestinian family who at the time was acting in response to Israeli soldiers. So Ahed's cousin threw a rock at these soldiers and in response they shot him in the head with a rubber bullet. Ahed, I think, was imprisoned for hitting a soldier with her hand or something. And in response, of course, they shipped her off to be incarcerated. And, you know, these are kids responding to soldiers completely destroying everything they know. And the Israeli military, of course, is very reflective of the domestic military in the U.S. There's training back and forth between the domestic military, otherwise known as the police, here and the Israeli military. And so the piece also was lifting up this idea that Black people and our Palestinian family members have common oppressions. You know, they're not the same - but they are parallel.
And so I think the story-on-story just comes from the time that it takes me to create a piece, which is months because of the detail in it. Sometimes it takes me years. It took me four years to finish Black Wall Street because everything is done by hand and it is extremely detailed. And so in those months or years, if I'm paying attention - these things are happening in the lives of so many different cultures, and so many different people. And so, the turtle piece is an amalgamation of all of those things, and kind-of trying to keep my sanity, trying to keep the names of folks who had been murdered alive, and making sure that I'm always remembering what's going on here.
I hear you. In what you were just talking about, too, I mean, I think that just seemed to kind-of lead a lot to solidarity. And in our podcast that's what we talk about a lot. And you always bring up - solidarity is love, and coming from a place of love, which I find that to be so beautiful because, you know, like when you're rolling through this life, you know, it's either love or fear, right? It's like, am I acting in love or am I acting in fear? Where am I coming from right now? The big notion of this 'solidarity' in the activism movements, and it sounds like this giant - this big thing. It is just like a practice, like there's small moments of solidarity that you can have just, you know, in your daily life. That *is* solidarity, you know - it's love for other peoples.
Yeah. If we're being real, and you're coming from a place of love, I feel like you can only claim to love someone if you care about the truth of their life and their lived experience. Love is an action. Who are you witnessing to? Who are you ministering to? Who are you educating so that those ten people that you know and you thought were just fine aren't the ones calling the police on me? What are you doing? How are you showing love? What is the truth that you're understanding and beginning to learn that is allowing you to operate a certain way? And we're in a time where you didn't know is not a thing. There's 'White Rage' by Carol Anderson, 'The New Jim Crow' - Michelle Alexander. I mean, I could go on and on. '1619' by Nikole Hannah-Jones. There's way too much information. [STINA: Yeah.] 'Caste' - Isabel Wilkerson.
Do the work.
Do the work. And doing the work is love. But the foundation of that is all – that we're all the same human, same blood, one blood, one people.
[MUSIC] Money Menace by Justin Delorme [00:26:09]
Man, I originally came up with the name the Solidarity Index because I realized that my entire life was about witnessing solidarity between humans. Just like regular, extraordinary people in my personal atmosphere. I'm seeing actionable love across borders and between races, genders, ability levels and socioeconomic status. People are standing by each other for the betterment of the earth and for humanity. So I just kept wondering, like, why is it that what unites us is less publicized than what divides us? What if we had an index of people who are acting in solidarity in their everyday lives and their interpersonal relationships and on the front lines? What if we could see our own struggles as tied to those of the person sitting next to us? What if we had an index of examples of all the ways solidarity could manifest? What if we had an index that could grow infinitely and that everybody had access to? So when my nieces are 12 and 13, they can run through this list of people that they can reach out to. I wanted everybody to see and know of my loved ones who are practicing love in action right here, right now, in the ways they know how. So that was my dream at the time because I'm surrounded by solidarity and people who are using love and action to elevate solidarity in practice.
The solidarity we're talking about, the interconnectedness we're talking about... You know the *fabric*. We're talking about the intersectionality of all of the ways that you can be in solidarity with other humans and non-human relatives. Right? So in our podcast, we have this transitional sound, which is so beautiful to me, and we usually start off each episode with the sound of this wave crashing. There's a real energy and feeling behind it. So yeah... can you share more about that?
Before a wave crashes the shoreline, it has to become this giant thing. It is motion, right? There's a rising up from behind and below that overtakes the top and bursts across borders. Waves are something that you can't see until you see them. So there's just so much underground movement and motion and build-up and power and strength and energy that is coming through a wave, particularly when it crashes. And when it crashes, of course, what happens is then it disperses. It goes everywhere. It becomes a million parts of something that once looked like a whole. It clarifies. It washes over. There are all these ways that it moves through time and space. When you talk about movements and the collective of individuals that it takes to move forward in a movement – and the waves are a kind-of, a representation of us collectively. And by us I don't just mean anyone involved in The Solidarity Index. I mean everyone who is a part of the wave towards freedom, human dignity, bodily autonomy, prison abolition, sustainability of the earth. I think of the young people, the Sunrise Movement and how hard they're working to make sure we have an earth in 30 years. That's the wave. And the wave when it breaks - breaks open and even in its breaking open, it still represents an offering for more to join. When that water goes back into the sea, it represents an offering. It represents a collecting of whatever it has broken open onto to come back into the water and be a part of that underground building to create the whole.
I love that sound. Yeah. I'm just loving like, how we are using it too in the episode. It's like, Hey come and join in this reciprocal vibe and gathering. And just that act alone of this conversation is - is powerful. [Z: Yeah.] It feels good, you know?
Yeah. I, I love the - joining. And I also love this idea that there are so many people that we are joining because this is - the wave is so huge and The Solidarity Index is an index of people that this podcast can reach with the few tentacles that we have, right? It is a knowing and an understanding that there's so many folks... People who work at the bakery who make sure, you know, folks get fed at the end of the night. Our sanitation workers that might go into this neighborhood over here where the government is neglecting, but they make sure it gets picked up anyway. The teachers who are putting in work, even in states that are banning our human story, to still teach it. Like, there's so many people who are doing so many different things, who are standing in solidarity in so many different ways - that I'll never know their names, we'll never talk to. And so this is us talking to the people that we end up having access to and also trying to somehow be in community with all the folks who we don't know yet and who we hope to know. It's an offering. It's just an offering. It is, you know, I love that what we're trying to do is to offer something in honor of knowing that we're only a little part of that wave that exists. We're only a little part of that - that underwater power that is simmering.
[Waves surging then crashing]
The last thing that I would say is, I've read Angela Davis's book, 'Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement' a few times now… And she really asks the question of how we bring various social justice struggles together across national borders. This is also something that Malcolm X talked about a lot. How do we talk about the militarization of policing in Ferguson, Palestine and Brazil? So Angela Davis really speaks to the mandate that in order to organize - we got to develop strategies that allow people to identify with a particular issue as *their* issue. It can't just be something *over there*. So we gotta help people understand that their issue has parallels and structural connections to other questions of justice around the world.
So The Solidarity Index, the hope is that in interviewing global citizens from around the world - we can create a sense that we're all related, that we share parallel struggles, that those struggles are being addressed in creative ways, and that all of those struggles affect us in some way at this point in our lives on the planet. I mean, the life of the planet really depends on us acting in solidarity against oppression around the world. The way we treat our human resources is the way we treat the resources and offerings of the planet. And what I mean about that is if you look inside the cages of this country and the way we're treating our people, the way we're farming our people, the way we are destroying that resource and harming that resource, that's the same thing we're doing with the earth, with the water, with the air. What I feel and what I know is that the truth will inform the love, and the love must inform the action.
Love that. In the words of Zahyr Lauren… word.
Word, my G.
Word, my G.
[MUSIC] Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:34:41]
The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free - until everybody is free. Free... Free... Free.
Thank you for listening to the Solidarity Index. Reminder to check out our show notes for links.
I'm sorry. Go ahead, go ahead. I'm sorry.
I knew you were gonna do that. Okay. Well I'm trying to be professional!
You are very professional.
I'm – I'm channeling your host vibes.
Okay... Take two.
Thank you for listening to The Solidarity Index Inside-Out episode. Reminder to check out our show notes for links and information on the people and topics we touched on today.
If you like this episode, please share it with your friends and family.
And tell us what you think: Tag us on Instagram @TheSolidarityIndex or send us a message through our website – TheSolidarityIndex.com… we'd love to hear your feedback.
We'd also be so, so grateful if you took a minute to rate and review The Solidarity Index on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or any other podcast app you use. Your ratings and reviews play a crucial role in boosting our visibility and helping new listeners to follow us.
Music provided by Nagamo – an Indigenous music library. Songs featured: 'Money Menace' by Justin Delorme, and 'Determination' by Justin Delorme and Chippewa Travelers. This podcast is a production of State of Mind Media, created and produced by Jen Bell, Shalva Wise, Zahyr Lauren, and me - Stina Hamlin. Audio Editing and Production by me - Stina Hamlin. Audio Mix by Matt Gundy.
Logo and identity design by Marwan Kaabour. Art direction, website and additional design by Jen Bell at Studio Analogy. Our theme song - 'Until Everybody Is Free' by Bella Cuts - is out everywhere you listen to music. All proceeds from streaming and downloads go to the Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation.
I'm one of the producers and host of this Inside-Out episode – Stina Hamlin.
And I'm your host, Zahyr Lauren aka The Artist L.Haz. Appreciate y'all for listening. Peace.
[MUSIC] Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:37:15]
The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free – until everybody is free. Free… Free… Free.