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Reimagine Seattle: Stevie Shao

The challenges of the past two years have changed the way we live, the way we work, and the way we show up for each other. They have also given us a rare chance to collectively reimagine our future. Through the Reimagine Seattle Storytelling Project we invite community members to reflect on their current experiences in Seattle, how they have been impacted by recent events, and their hopes for the future of our city.

The Butterfly Kite

art and words by Stevie Shao

illustration of a butterfly on a bright yellow background. the butterfly features bold shades of red, pink, and blue.

When I was growing up in Seattle, my dad picked up a hobby — kite flying. I don’t remember what drew him to it, or when it started exactly, but he still gazes out the window at my parent’s home and comments on the wind, watching the treetops sway against a cloudy sky. He likes all kinds of kites; trick kites that can do special sequences of flips and turns, kites shaped like pirate ships, windsocks, anything. 

The past year, I watched as the city came to life around me after the quiet of staying-at-home. I felt the wash of people rise and settle. Every shift in breath presented a challenge, but over time it became obvious that we were struggling to find the tangible community we were used to. How could we possibly act like things were normal? 

It was hard for me to maintain and define my relationships with individuals and community. I know I wasn’t the only one going through it, but the breakdown in communication and relative inability to make an impact left me feeling lonely. Through this greater struggle and through an individual struggle of self, I came to know a new version of Stevie that I hardly recognized. I swung from spending a great deal of time outdoors to throwing myself into work: an isolated cocoon. I was getting dressed out of the dryer, turning my notifications off, laying down and taking deep breaths. The changes were bittersweet, but through struggling with myself, I strengthened the connection to my core. I found a new sense of patience. I was seeing things through, sitting with my emotions, and setting boundaries. I was finally able to show up for community with intention as well as tap into some of my difficult relationships. After a long stretch of silence, I started speaking to my dad again.

I represented this reckoning with self, community, and individuals with a butterfly kite. These types of kites are normally stored flat, fly flat. They just need string and wind, perfect for kids. The design is typically screen printed in bright colors – halftones layering and blending outlining patterns with imprecise overlay. I bought mine in Chinatown and have it pinned to the wall above my desk.   Anytime I zone out, I’m able to revisit a flawless design that shows out in its simple production, imperfections, and symbology. Butterflies are revered for their delicate beauty, a power that is resilient through generations and countless metamorphoses and transformations. Butterflies are a mark in time, a reminder of the vulnerability of life. Our new wings are wet, and it’ll take a few gusts of wind before we make it above the clouds. The butterfly kite is my perfect symbol of reconciliation, the pains of growth, and the metamorphosis of our beloved city in a year.

close up photo of young Chinese American woman. she has long, dark hair with several blonde streaks. she is standing in front of a painted mural and smiling.
Stevie Shao is a Seattle born-and-raised illustrator and muralist whose work features bold colors, folk art inspired imagery and a love for the plant and animal life from the region. She is passionate about local causes related to environmental stewardship, racial justice and preserving historic community roots.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.