Even as the 2022 Burning Man event was still happening, there were murmurs from participants about an art project of a large, convincingly scary beast that you had to seek out and experience. In the weeks following the event, “Facing the Fearbeast” by Tigre Mashaal-Lively & Make Love Visible was getting a lot of attention on social media as more participants shared their stories:
“They were one of the handful of artists at Burning Man that worked in the physical and emotional landscape of the playa in a way that was both accessible and genuinely moving.”
“I’ve never ever been so intimately, pointedly, disarmed by a work of art. I still cannot consider this piece without breaking down in tears.”
—Krystal Wellman Weinberg
A mere five weeks after the Man fell, Tigre chose to exit this existence, leaving behind their powerful art and an impact that won’t easily be forgotten. As Tigre’s Artist Liaison for Black Rock City 2022, I want to honor their contribution, not only to Burning Man, but to humanity.
Longtime collaborator and one of the Project Managers for “Facing the Fearbeast,” Calli Beck, says, “The feedback we’ve been getting both at the event and after, was that it was impactful across the community. People cried. People healed years of their own trauma by standing with the child. And that was Tigre’s vision. At one point we were standing there watching people cry and they turned to me and said ‘….that’s how we know it’s working.’”
It was Tigre’s purpose to find ways to process the whole human experience through art, and they would always ask, “But does it have duende?” El duende is about invoking the spirit in creative expression that elicits an authentic physical/emotional response. Those who experienced “Facing the Fearbeast” know the answer to that question is 100% “yes.”
Tigre was a Black mixed-race, genderqueer artist raised in Philadelphia. Tigre’s mother, Linda Marshall, told the Santa Fe Reporter about how Tigre did a finger painting in daycare that was recognizable as a firebird… at nine months old! As a child, they took ballet classes, honing a massive talent for storytelling through movement.
As Tigre expanded their artistic practice into adulthood, they used various methods, materials, and forms of expression. Drawing, spoken word, painting, movement-based performance, face painting, crafting instruments, costuming, music making, environmental design, interactive installations — Tigre put no limits on the ways to communicate their stories in exhibits, events, and performances all over the world.
In a conversation with Jhana Goldenflame, Tigre’s life partner, she said, “Their commitment to art was their primary relationship. I know they never wanted to choose another path.” In this interview Nova Han conducted with Tigre during the first summer of the pandemic, Tigre said, “Creativity is the defining human characteristic. It is our evolutionary niche.” Tigre revealed to Nova how they took the final leap of faith into creating art full time, giving partial credit to their experience at Burning Man, and sharing that the scale and audacity of what people were creating for Black Rock City inspired them.
Tigre’s first burn was in 2010; they contributed their creativity in subsequent years by designing environments for their theme camp and through performance. In 2013, they brought Lobo Madre to their theme camp, burning the installation at the event directly on top of the ashes of the Man. Tigre received their first Honorarium grant as co-lead for The Solacii in 2017, a 21-foot-tall figural sculpture that represents a race of mythical ancient beings welcoming visitors to a sacred space within for respite and meditation. During this same time period, Tigre was living in the Bay Area and their creative pursuits were sought out by various galleries, creative spaces, and events locally, nationally, and then around the world.
The desert of northern New Mexico called to Tigre and they moved to Santa Fe in 2019, where they co-founded the Earthseed Black Arts Alliance and ramped up their creative practice while also deepening their work on social justice issues. While enduring the challenges of the pandemic and the impact on in-person events and gatherings, Tigre pursued a concept they cultivated for several years to create another large-scale, mixed-media art project for Burning Man and beyond. They submitted an application for the Black Rock City Honoraria Program in 2021, and “Facing the Fearbeast” was selected.
Tigre led a production team to bring this powerful project to Black Rock City. Alex De Vore, Arts and Culture Editor for the Santa Fe Reporter, wrote a cover story about the project in mid-August. He says, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an artist so truly dedicated to real collaboration.” He was struck by how unpretentious Tigre was and how he “could’ve covered their work so often, which would have been so easy because they were generous with their time and vulnerability.”
“Facing the Fearbeast” contains nuanced layers of meaning that aren’t immediately obvious upon the first encounter. From afar, the massive Fearbeast invokes a dark and menacing feeling amplified by an audio soundtrack of negative statements projected at the small child facing it — “you are worthless.” To alter the tone, you must stand with the child. This triggers a change in the lighting and sound revealing the Fearbeast’s own inner child, which begins to glow as the dialogue shifts to positive messages — “I believe in you.” It isn’t simply about good vs. evil, beast vs. child. Rather, it highlights that within the beast, there is a wounded inner child that is often the source of destructive and damaging words and actions. Through empathy and community, we have the power to shift our personal narrative and heal wounded conditioning, quieting the cycle of pain. What made “Facing the Fearbeast” so special was that it addressed universal concepts that many people relate to through their own experiences with trauma, fear, and healing. Katie Hazard, Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Art Management, relates that “Facing the Fearbeast” was among the most impactful artworks in BRC this year, for the incredible artistry of the sculpture itself but especially for the transformative, medicinal, and magical nature of its interaction and symbolism.”
Even while navigating the first waves of grief, Jhana feels an immense amount of trust and unconditional love, which ripples out to those closest to Tigre. It’s a feeling they hope continues to spread to all who were touched by Tigre’s life and work. She says, “This does not mean bypassing our pain of loss and longing. That can exist alongside trusting Tigre’s spirit.”
Mostly Jhana wants to dispel the idea that the Fearbeast won. She says that since adolescence, Tigre felt they may transition from their earthly existence in this way, but they didn’t want to pass their wound onto others. Calli talks about the legacy they leave behind, “the number of people and other artists they’ve inspired over the course of their life, the organizations they supported and created — the work that they’ve left for us to carry on… well, that is the new story we’re all trying to figure out right now.”
Donations to support Tigre’s legacy can be made to Make Love Visible for “Facing the Fearbeast” and Earthseed Black Arts Alliance, a Black Arts Alliance Tigre co-founded focused on supporting Black art and artists in Northern New Mexico.
If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, call or text 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Support is also available via live chat.
Cover image of Tigre Mashaal-Lively, 2022 (Photo by Mike Whitten)