Two Young Artists Shoulder the Grief of the World


by Lisa Kinoshita

Tiffanny Hammonds, 20, and Saiyare Refaei, 24, are two artists who articulate their feelings about life, grief and personal growth and put them on full public display. Their vibrant mural, 5 Stages, “encapsulates our version [of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five] stages of grief,” said Refaei. Incorporating writings by local poets, the two chose to step away from the famous Swiss-American psychiatrist’s study of the universal response to grief, instead creating their own 5-rung ladder of emotional response:

  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Acceptance
  • Action
  • Gratitude

(Kübler-Ross’s grief sequence was denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).


Located at 953 Market St. in downtown Tacoma, the artwork stretches across an entire commercial building and can be perused by car commuters and pedestrians on the street. Images of children, flowers and cartoon figures are interwoven with writing that encourages an active response to negative circumstances (including but not limited to, death).  The wall “has been a turning point in Tacoma murals to uplift truth and possibilities. We wanted to continue that momentum,” said Refaei.

Optimism and leadership come naturally to these young artists. Refaei was introduced to street art while studying in Oaxaca, Mexico, during her sophomore year at Pacific Lutheran University. She returned a year later on a research grant, “Where I interviewed artists trying to understand if national trade agreements (particularly NAFTA) had influenced or changed the way they do art. In that process, I learned that murals can be a way share art with everyone, no matter their socioeconomic status.” It also motivated her to organize her first outdoor mural at PLU.

Refaei_Hammonds_Artscapes_2017_Crews_23Refaei and Hammonds learned the intricacies of making legally-sanctioned graffiti at Tacoma’s FABITAT art center, headed by Kenji Stoll and Christopher Paul Jordan. Hammonds attended high school at Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA). “We are both involved with Fab-5 [the leadership at FABITAT] in different capacities,” said Refaei. “Tiffanny has been involved with Fab-5 for at least the last seven years, [going] from student to instructor.”

The two meticulously planned out their massive downtown painting. “The five stages enabled us to pace [the work] in a strategic way, to make the wall interactive, and also helped us go through the process of grieving so many things that have happened over the course of this past year.”

The creation of the mural progressed in phases that correspond to the five stages of grief. For step 1)shock, the artists painted the wall a vivid red. For steps 2)anger, and 3)acceptance, they put out a call to local writers requesting short poems written around those themes. For phases 4)action, and 5)gratitude, “We chose visual representation of real people living and working near the mural site who are constantly going above and beyond to do good work; reminding us to keep an open mind and see the world through a child’s eye; to love ourselves and share our harvest with others.

“Even the most random things remind us to keep moving forward, and enjoy the little life-giving things that make our day amidst the heartache and turmoil in this world,” said Refaei. The artists wish to thank contributing writers: Danielle Jordan, Quinn Brenfleck, Whikid Matticuless, Juliet Meggs, Jessica Rychael, Vanessa Williams, Lennée Reid, Quenessa Long, and Gloria Muhammad.

5 Stages, by Saiyare Refaei & Tiffanny Hammonds, S. 11th & Market St. (S. 11th side of  the building), 
through 2017

All photos by Kris Crews

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