Niko Tiare Uses Poetry To Help Heal The Community
It’s impossible to take oneself out of their art. Art imitates life which imitates art for a seamless ebb and flow of familiarity in newly emerging concepts. Queer artist of color, Niko Tiare, uses poetry to bring this sense of familiarity to those people, especially queer youth, who are not usually mentioned in the arts within the narrow confines of the mainstream media. They want their poetry to let others with similar backgrounds and cultures to know that they are not alone.
“I started writing when I was about 11 or 12, it was during the time that Def Jam poetry was really cool on YouTube and it was getting a lot of views and that’s where I found spoken word for the first time,” Niko Tiare said. “I discovered Youth Speaks, which is a national poetry slam and youth development program for people 21 and under. I found a lot of youth writing. They were working through trauma and using storytelling, and I found that to be really helpful for me as well.”
They ended up taking the leap in high school to take their solely written endeavors into art and bring them in front of other people on stage.
“When I got into this all-girls high school, we had this thing called V-day, which was vagina day,” they explained. “No one knew better, although someone should have known better, but I didn’t because I was young. However, for vagina day they wanted a spoken word artist to come in and do a piece on inter-partner-violence. I had never performed before. I only did written things and hid them away and never shared them, but for some reason, I thought I’m a spoken word artist and that I should do it. I wrote a piece for my high school and performed it in front of my school.
I realized that this is something I can do,” Niko Tiare explained. “I got involved mostly with a really cool open mic in Pomona called A Mic And Dim Lights where I was able to be amongst adults when I came here for college and people who really did poetry for a living whether it was professionally or for themselves. I started to do gigs here and there. Now I mostly do open mics in communities and even smaller workshops.
Niko Tiare now works mostly with QTPOC and within local communities performing their work and leading workshops on writing that dip into subjects such as gender and being a survivor of sexual assault. They also do work informing other about how to work with trans people and cultural competency with healthcare professionals. Niko Tiare’s other community work involves working with homeless youth who are primarily queer and transgender, due to the fact that this is the population that is mostly on the streets within the demographic of young people between the ages of 18 to 24. They do a lot of facilitation around gender and try to have writing be involved as much as they can.
“I originally was working with TAY, or transitional age youth, ages 18 to 24 in higher education just because that is the biggest demographic involved on college campuses, said Niko Tiare. “I really enjoyed that age-range but I also started to think about the way that higher education functions and it really crossed a lot of my ethics specifically working with Greek Life, working with a lot of white folx, rich folx, and cis folx, and I was kind of over it. Even with QTPOC in higher ed at least you have that platform or that avenue in some capacity and privilege to figure out how you are going to be okay. I realized that wasn’t the demographic that I wanted to work with.
I started to explore other options and found the non-profit that I work for now, Niko Tiare explained. “I realized that it is mostly black and brown youth, mostly queer, and mostly trans and that was the population that I really wanted to work with. I wanted to be able to act as a mirror to show an example of success for people that look like us and see the world in the way we do. I was also lucky enough to know someone in the field to help me transition from higher education to a non-profit sector.”
For now, Niko Tiare wants to continue to keep things small, community-based, and direct the message to who they want to hear it when it comes to poetry. However, in the future, they are considering going back to school to get a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and become a licensed therapist.
“I been searching for almost a year trying to find a therapist competent enough to care for me and I can’t find that. I once had a therapist who was an Asian non-binary person who specialized in kink and polyamorous relationships. I thought that it was wild, and it was the first time in my life that I could ever talk about sexual trauma and inter-partner violence with someone and actually get somewhere with it. I really want to become a therapist so that I can be a space where QTPOC can come and actually be held in a way that’s responsible and competent and I don’t think that the majority of us have that access to care. I think that’s disgusting because our rates for mental health and suicides are through the roof and we don’t even have access to care.”
Niko Tiare is also working on putting together a YouTube channel that can be used as a resource for cultural competency training and workshops that people may not have access to due to lack of awareness or funding. It would work as a means for friends and family of queer and trans people to obtain information.
“I definitely believe in vulnerability as community care. So, for me that means when I share my story I’m sharing it with the purpose of one, yes, healing myself, but sharing my story is a big part of unlearning shame and celebrating myself, but also because everything that I know about myself that I love, I love because somebody else out there showed themselves to me and showed that aspect of pride in themselves to me.
Every single one of my pieces is very specific to being queer, being trans, being a person of color, disabled, and being a person whose parents who come from migrant families,” Niko Tiare continued. “Everything is reflective of that because I don’t think I can write about me without touching on any of those things. I’ve been lucky enough to have that, so, for me, that vulnerability as community care is getting up there and sharing how I experience the world and the way that I experience my body, and I love that even if I don’t always join in the celebration of that experience of myself. It’s who I am, and it is part of my journey. It’s not strange, it’s normal, and other people are going through this.”
You can follow Niko Tiare on Instagram @thedivineshift for more information or for your local community or school bookings.