Resting Our Eyes: In Conversation With Tahirah Rasheed

Resting Our Eyes: In Conversation With Tahirah Rasheed

International DJ. Artist. Educator. Liberator. Curator. The titles adorn the crown of “artrepreneur” Tahirah Rasheed are vast, plentiful, and well-deserved.

As the co-founder of See Black Women, Tahirah has dedicated much of her talents to supporting, protecting, and celebrating Black women. She also creates and shares art through her content production agency, Fresh Made Productions.

Recently, Tahirah took a moment to give insight on presenting the Black voice, offering teachings on Black feminism, and explaining the importance of self-care as a Black woman. Learn more about Tahirah and the inspiration behind "Resting Our Eyes" below.


Tell us about your background? Where are you from? What are your creative talents? 

I started Fresh Made Productions in 2016. It is a content production agency creating and sharing art material.

I co-founded See Black Women in 2019, whose original goal was focused on triumph over the twin parallels of invisibility and hypervisibility of Black women. It was initiated from a commitment made between a former partner and I to witness each other within the broader context of witnessing and protecting our community of Black women at large. I will continue to manifest See Black Women through a magazine (See Us Magazine), political campaigns, live events, and museum programming dedicated to elevating the work of Black women - something I envisioned even before its birth. 

I am an internationally traveled Disc Jockey. This is something I often never really talked about or people know the history of. I started DJ’ing back in 2009 after receiving equipment from DJ Daniela Boykin, who spun at house parties in Oakland, Calif., and at Luka's Taproom on Thursday nights, and Quame, who is a beloved mentor of mine when I was a student at UC Berkeley. Quame gave me a tape recorder to manually learn how to beat match by listening to myself spin actual vinyl records. Daniella Boykin gave me my first mixer and a bunch of records and showed me how to spin on Technics. When I returned to Oakland in 2014, it was DJ Black and DJ Grey Wolf who threw me into the club to DJ, and I was booked from there and had residencies at Brix, Uptown, Starline Social Club, and then places in London, Paris, Lyon, and Sweden once. 

I then started throwing major events at all the locations I DJ'd at and finally started curating artists within those places and events for emerging artists, DJs, singers, and writers. Some of those folks include ASTU, an event I did at Mills College for YRSA Daley-Ward, and the list goes on.


How did where you were raised fuel your artistry? 

I was born and raised in West Oakland (Ohlone Land), and my neighborhood, although immensely gentrified, has always been a place of deep Black history in the arts, labor, and workforce, and of course, in the protest of civil rights.

West Oakland was once a booming naval port city where you had Esther's Orbit Room right off the Bart. You had performers like Tina Turner, Lou Rawls, Etta James, B.B. King, and Al Green there.

You also have The Pullman Porters station in the back of West Oakland, one of the largest employers of African Americans. Oakland resident Cottrell Laurence Dellums was the Brotherhood's Sleeping Car Porters' first vice president and the Western Regional Director of the NAACP. This was an early labor organizing union and movement with roots in West Oakland.

Then you have The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP). It was founded in October 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, who met at Merritt College in Oakland. It was a revolutionary organization with an ideology of Black nationalism, socialism, and armed self-defense, particularly against police brutality. My mother and father were both active in the party. My mother volunteered her time within the breakfast program, feeding kids in West Oakland and at Defremery Park while working as a preschool teacher. I also went to programs at Defremery when I was a child for the summer and after school, sometimes I recall. 

As you can imagine, my art is rooted in activism and I consider myself a visual activist. I use art to express myself and ignite a revolution in onlookers. I am beginning neon and glass school in 2023 and looking forward to illuminating folks' minds and igniting protest in those who want better lives rooted in quality and fairness.


You’ve created a space where Black creatives can be seen and the voice of Black women can be heard.  How did See Black Women and See Us magazine get its start?

I am an artrepreneur focused on using art and business to fortify broader justice movements.  I am the founder of Fresh Made Productions and co-founder of See Black Women, two organizations dedicated to uplifting the creative voices in my community. 


How has this work funneled into your work as a visual activist and art curator? 

My passion for the arts continues to grow as I continue to accept collaborations and explore how I can grow and learn. I love to learn. I will never stop wanting to learn. That means I'm invested in being in a community with like-minded individuals. I am a part of the Wide Awakes, an open-source network that radically reimagines the future through creative collaboration. That is actually where I met Autumn Breon, and the rest is HISTORY… I'm working toward a day in which her ventures are part of the sustainable support of Black art in service of Black freedom, Black love, and Black prosperity.


How do you find new artists and what criteria do you use to display an artist’s work?

Interesting question.  As I mentioned, being a part of the Wide Awakes is where I have met most artists, not necessarily new, but new to me in person.  They are a “community of voices that welcome ideas and membership of all as we grow this movement to create a new culture together in pursuit of the liberation of mind, body, and spirit.”  I don’t really find artists, I just meet people and listen to them, and a lot of the time, we end up doing cool shit together.

I tend to steer away from having set criteria for an “artist” because of my own very negative and traumatic experience in the art world.   People have questioned my skill set and said, “Oh, she’s not a professional artist.”   Blah, blah, blah.  I try not to inflict that kind of superiority power over someone because, ultimately, it’s all collaborative, not speculative or that I’m over an artist or better than… I’m always in my own lane and don’t think I’m ever doing anything anyone else is doing.  So yeah, I steer away from having certain criteria aside from the years of training or work an artist puts in, and it affects people and makes people stop and feel something. 


As a curator, what is the greatest challenge when presenting the Black voice/perspective in art?

Plain and simple—presenting Black voice and perspective in art is exhausting. 

When I started curating this exhibit, I talked to Dr. Leigh Raiford. She's my former professor from UC Berkeley, an author, and curator in her own right. I've always admired and appreciated her brilliance and eloquence in writing and speaking about Black voices and perspectives in art. Well, as is the case with Leigh, she asked me if I read "Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts."

I ordered it the same day. It's a critical view on "3 acts" and looks at how the art world struggles with race and museum curators doing things wrong over and over because they often want to justify racism and ignorance as "free speech" and "non-censorship." 


"Nobody's Free Until Black Women Are Free" etched into an 18K gold signet ring. Can you give us perspective on the statement and why you chose such a powerful statement on a powerful statement jewelry piece?

I was raised on Black feminist theory, so here are some resources and materials for folks to read to educate themselves on Black feminism. 

  • A Much-Needed History Lesson on the Origins of the Term 'Women of Color' 
  • Combahee River Collective Statement
  • For The Record - A poem by Audre Lorde
  • Invisible No More - Forward & Chapter 6
  • No More Allies - Mia McKenzie
  • Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain't I A Woman? - Delivered 1851

at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio

Other optional resources: 

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw 

The Violent State Black Womens Invisible Struggle Against Police Violence 

Black women's bodies are policed more than any other body in the world. Our society has historically and currently criminalized blackness and or gender deviance. This is achieved from old stereotypes around fear and safety, the hyper-sexualization of Black bodies, criminalizing of our clothing, criminalizing of who we are in the community, and the list goes on. 

What I'm trying to get at here is the phrase "intersectionality" coined by a Black woman, Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. She addresses how the multiple forms of inequality or oppression (such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, and more) can compound and create different modes of discrimination or disadvantage. But before Crenshaw, there was a long history of Black feminists speaking out about how their experiences differed from White women and Black men. One example is "Ain't I A Woman?" by Sojourner Truth which highlighted how her lived experience as a formerly enslaved woman did not fit into the conceptions of womanhood constructed around upper-class White women. Fun fact: "Ain't I A Woman?" was going to be the title of this show until Autumn Breon put her brilliance on it.

In 1970, you had the Combahee River Collective (Black lesbian scholars) who had the same observations 100 years later! Go figure, right? It was from activists like Sojourner Truth who came before them that they set out the philosophy of Black feminism.

It's the idea and belief that Black women are inherently valuable and our liberation is necessary. That there is a need to dismantle oppressive political-economic systems of capitalism and the commitment to stand in solidarity with feminists in colonized and formerly colonized countries fighting against imperialism. These activists fought against racial, gender, heterosexual, and class oppression and observed that major systems of oppression are "interlocking." The Combahee River Collective recognized that we must destroy all oppression systems to liberate all people.

And here I see that Black women are still overwhelmingly at the BOTTOM. Why? Does Sway have the answer to that? It's because we are invisibilized in all the struggles, and nobody but us fights for us, and it becomes mentally, physically, and psychologically draining and leads to early death. Academia is killing Black women, institutions are killing Black women, White fragility is killing Black women, and authoritarian leftists are killing Black women.

All that to say, this quote on the signet ring means a lot to me. It's like, Black feminism but make it fashion. (Meme)

The view from the bottom looks much different from the top. The Combahee River Collective gives us the language and tools to understand that vs. the media's distorted definition of identity politics.

So… nobody's free until black women are free.


We always see you effortlessly fitted and fresh. What’s your relationship with jewelry as a means of radical self-care?

My relationship with jewelry as a means of radical self-care comes from the women in my family. One thing I didn’t understand until more recently in my adulthood is that I don’t have the luxury or privilege of showing up tacky in the world when I’m out and about or going places. Unfortunately, not being fitted and fresh with this physically larger, dark-skinned androgynous body could mean my life.

More specifically, my mother would take me to JCPenney for pictures, and I grew up circling the outfits I wanted from the Macy and JCPenny catalogs. I hated the dresses and stockings, but I can appreciate that my mom had me out here dressed in the patent leather Mary Janes and the black and white Saddle shoes. I hated those shoes growing up, too, and now I have adult versions. 

My Aunt Aretha Mae Timmons and my Aunt Alicia Smith are fashion ICONS. Again, I always hated shopping when I was younger, but my aunts would take me to Stanford shopping center with them, and I‘d buy jewelry, Coach purses, Dooney and Burke, Coogi sweaters, and Ralph Lauren pea coats. And also, my father! Literally, when going out some nights with my mom would come into my room and ask how he looked. Usually, he’d have on a fly Stetson hat, some Stacey Adams or Frye boots, and he’d pull the lapels on his suit coat, looking in the mirror, saying things like, “You have to look sharp, Tahirah.”  I’d laugh, and he would too, but it’s true! You gotta be sharp out here in these streets. When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you get good energy coming your way. 

At Castilleja School, where I went to high school, I’d get so upset when my parents didn’t let me participate in Pajama Day at school, but I get it now. Most, if not all, of my classmates were getting dropped off at school, and I was on public transit coming from the hood. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to go out in public like that. 

My parents knew outside of school it would have put me in a direct line of sight for harassment by White people if not the outright police themselves, who would have judged me and made assumptions about me based on what I was wearing. 

In a way, the jewelry and fresh outfits are like an armory. I don’t have to speak, and people think twice before speaking to me, which is what I want and prefer. Although sometimes I hope how I’m dressed dismisses most from saying anything to me. 

Also, my skin and gold are the perfect pair. It just looks damn good.


As an international disc jockey, we know you keep your ears up for good music.  What’s your motivation music and what’s currently on heavy rotation on the Tahirah Rasheed playlist?

Janet Jackson is ALWAYS heavy in rotation and in all of the playlists I make. But here’s a playlist for ROE x Sucré Couture.


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