Saiyare Refaei, the Tacoma-based, Chinese-Iranian artist who was recently selected for the
Fred Hutch Cancer Center’s Public Art and Community Dialogue Program, unveiled their
artwork to the public last month – a digital drawing of two hands holding a bowl of rice, as if offering it towards the viewer, with the word ‘we’ written out in purple rice in the middle of the bowl, and juxtaposed against a brown, woven background. Expressions such as “we take care of each other”, “we will no longer suffer in silence”, and others are incorporated into the imagery, hugging the bowl of rice.
Refaei learned about the program through multiple friends who encouraged them to apply.
Before this, they were unfamiliar with Fred Hutch. They shared that a family member had gone through cancer treatment a few years back, so this opportunity felt especially fortuitous, and provided a chance for them to learn more about Fred Hutch and their work.
The artwork created for the program was the culmination of a series of conversations that the Asian, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AAANHPI) staff at Fred Hutch had with Refaei around their experiences and aspirations as it relates to health equity within their community.
Throughout the process, Refaei shared, “not only were they making space for me to listen to their colleagues during the dialogue series but further these art connections in the community.” Fred Hutch staff shared their desires to have a piece of art that showcased solidarity for the AAANHPI community and to create the visibility and space to show up as their authentic selves. With the AAANHPI community being so diverse and comprised of a wide range of ethnic groups and cultures, Refaei wanted to create work that demonstrated, “a sense of unity and healing rooted in what connects us to our ancestral homelands, as well as affirm the AAANHPI staff at Fred Hutch that they are not alone in their experiences.”
As a community artist, they found the process of participating in the Public Art and Community Dialogue Program to be very caring. Refaei said, “Sometimes public art opportunities can be very transactional and I felt that every step of the way they made sure I understood what was going to happen, what was being planned and truly cared about my wellbeing. With so much happening in Iran, locally and personally there were days it was harder to show up on the Zoom calls but they always greeted me in a way that I knew I could bring my full self.”
“We” can be seen inside the Arnold Building atrium on the Fred Hutch campus, as well as on a flag that is flown outside of the building, and on a large vinyl that is displayed on the top of one of the Fred Hutch campus buildings, which is visible from the Mercer Street ramp.
When asked about other projects they have coming up, Refaei shared, “Later this February the panel designs created for Sound Transit should be installed around the construction site for the new Federal Way transit center. Nine of us artists have been working on designs that will beautify the space. Other confirmed projects include a couple illustration projects. One project includes illustrations for a community organizer’s workbook that will be utilized for a book club to coincide with a publication coming out this summer. The second will be a series of illustrations to better explain the complexities of the eviction processes for a group in Oregon. You will also see a couple posters available through Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative as part of a print portfolio supporting bodily autonomy and another for the Justseeds CSA (Community Supported Art) subscribers around the theme of “Grounding: Intertwined with the More-Than-Human World”.
Other than that, I want to allocate time to work on some personal projects around the ongoing revolution in Iran and do some printmaking, gardening, more outdoor adventures, and spending more time with loved ones.”
You can find more of Saiyare Refaei’s work through the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative website at justseeds.org/artist/saiyarerefaei/ or @_saikick_ on Instagram. To learn more about the Fred Hutch Public Art and Community Dialogue Program, visit