The DC Armory you know (and love?) looks a little different these days. With the help of Refinery29’s traveling art exhibition 29Rooms, it’s become a liminal space where dreams mix with reality mix with memory mix with magic. The installations that make up the Expand Your Reality tour include a blend of sponsored installations (from brands like SheaMoisture, Transitions and Prudential), art with a message (highlighting organizations like the ACLU, Unbothered and Level Forward), sumptuous collaborations with artists like The Hoodwitch and Kali Uchis, plus a smattering of different artists that represent all of the new cities on the tour.
We’re lucky in D.C., not only do we get to jump into art by Jamea Richmond-Edwards (who has taken over the ever-changing Traveling Billboard installation), but D.C.’s very own Trap Bob (aka Tenbeete Solomon) is repping our city on every stop of the tour. “Stairway to Your Dreams” is her first foray into large sculptural work and it brings her neon colored hands and inspirational point of view to the forefront, creating a piece that very literally envelops you and inspires you to climb to new heights.
We stopped by 29Rooms to chat with Trap Bob about how the tour has changed her art and then we ran around taking a million photos. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Come have fun with us.
Brightest Young Things: How did you get involved with 29Rooms?
Trap Bob: It’s been so unbelievable. I’ve been wanting to work with Refinery for so long and I’ve been a fan of 29Rooms forever. They were looking for an artist for an experimental type of thing, and I saw that and I was like, “That can’t be 29Rooms.” They hit me up and I freaked out when they told me it was 29Rooms. I was supposed to do [the Travelling Billboard], and I was like, “No, I already see a room or something bigger!” I like to try different things. I just mentioned, “I’m willing to try a different medium or some sort of build out,” and they came back to me with the stairs idea. I was like… Done. They went and did the build out and everything, I sent in my designs and it was turned around so fast, I think it was maybe a month. Now it’s here! I feel like I’ve been waiting for it all year.
BYT: Did they have any feedback for your design or any elements they wanted you to include?, or did they let you go wild?
Trap Bob: They really just let me do my thing. They mentioned having text and using that space. When you first hear of the idea of designing a staircase, it sounds like, “Oh it’s going to be crazy,” but you’re also kind of limited in the way you have to go about it. But I like that type of challenge. It’s better to me than doing something flat. It let me think about how to include my branding and my design and also make it something people can use and take pictures and all that.
BYT: Has this made you want to do more sculptures and 3D work?
Trap Bob: I’ve been feeling like I just want to go as big as possible. Whatever it takes. Because it’s just me and my studio isn’t that big, it’s hard to do major build outs, the production, the process, so to be able to partner with people is the best way to do it. That’s why I love freelancing because then I get to do stuff I usually wouldn’t do.
BYT: Was your first sketch or vision from the stairs different from the final product?
Trap Bob: I was toying with so many different design ideas. It’s kind of already structured, but it’s also a very blank canvas. And I had to think about the magnitude and the traveling and how many different people were going to see it. For me, my work relating to people is so big, so I definitely wanted to reach as many people [as possible] with this. I was thinking of doing my girl designs, or something, but I don’t want to isolate and it’s hard to pin down what to really do with them… And I was like, “Let me just bring in my brand elements.”
I always love putting hands on things and I loved the idea of them reaching up. That’s how I started drawing them, I drew a hand reaching to the sky and I was able to flip that into so many things. Then I brought in the idea of following your dreams because that’s so major for me, that’s how I got where I am now. I always want to find a way in my work to get that message out there. I just wanted it to be something fun that people would want to take a picture of and also connect with the idea.
Throughout the tour I’ve had so many people tag me and put these long captions talking about how the theme applies to them and how the message helped them and that’s so amazing. I want people to care about the idea, but people come for fun, so I don’t always expect people to get too deep with it, but I’ve seen a lot of people relate to that theme and that’s all I can ask for.
BYT: Has the tour increased your visibility? Has it changed things for you as an artist?
Trap Bob: Yes. Definitely. Even just me, in my head, I’m like, “I’m a 29Rooms artist!” I’m special now. But also so many different people from all of these other cities, like Toronto, this is my first time being International. It’s so exciting. Even different influencers and celebrities that have gone. Atlanta was really special because everybody was there. 2 Chainz’s road manager went and tagged me… Actually I just did animation assistance on Missy Elliott’s new video and they found me because the tour went to Atlanta and I had just done a drawing of her. It’s more than I could have asked for. It’s so unbelievable.
BYT: What have you been creating since the stairs?
Trap Bob: It’s definitely pushed me to want to do bigger things, like I mentioned earlier. Just looking for different ways to apply my designs. I’ve started getting into wood cutouts and painting on plywood and stuff like that. It allows me to go bigger, even with canvases, I get really bored with them when they’re too small. For me, an ideal canvas size would be a 3×8. Even the gestures, when I paint I like to do big strokes. It’s hard for me to do small things. It’s definitely pushed my mind on what’s possible, thinking about going to other cities, traveling for my work and also getting back into painting itself and doing some more original work. This year has been a lot of freelancing and amazing opportunities, but it’s definitely reminded me that I need to come back and get my creativity going again.