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Local artist Nikita Ares brings rainbows to the rink on Kraken Pride Night jerseys

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Seattle Kraken
Seattle Kraken

The Seattle Kraken and the Anaheim Ducks crossed sticks at Climate Pledge Arena on Thursday last week, in a match made particularly colorful by a generous splash of rainbow colors. From the DJ booth to the rinkside ads, just about everything at our local hockey team's Pride Night game was a spectrum of color for the occasion — and they went the extra mile by choosing local Queer artist Nikita Ares to design this year's Pride jersey.

Nikita Ares — Courtesy photo  

To the often dreary Pacific Northwest, Ares's work is like a healthy dose of vitamin D. It's bold, bright, organic, and abstract. While her jersey's design is constrained by the Kraken's "S" logo, it is infused with much of the same energy as her paintings.

In a Zoom call, Ares quoted activist and Harvard professor Cesar Cruz: "Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable."

"I think I'm definitely like the former," she said. "I think my art is there to comfort the ones [who] are suffering."

Turning hockey into art
Ares moved from Cagayan de Oro, the Philippines, to Seattle when she was 17. By then, she had spent much of her life surrounded by nature, and painting was just one of many art forms she had practiced. "I grew up in ballet and [playing] the violin," she said. But she found that visual art, especially painting, "responded" to her in a way other media didn't.

As an immigrant moving to the United States, Ares said, "there was a lot of fear of being rejected, right? Just because I felt different."

This was not the case, however, at Cornish College of the Arts, from which she graduated with honors in 2018. Since then, her work has been featured in the Seattle Times, City Arts Magazine, and The Stranger.

The idea of art being a two-way street — a relationship more than an imposition of the artist's will on a medium — is at the core of Ares's work, Pride jersey included.

Seattle Kraken  

"Each shape kind of represents an identity, or some sort of uniqueness," she said of the design. The "S" could be seen as an ice rink, the shapes inside as players, or even expressions of the energetic movements that punctuate hockey matches.

Ares transformed the anchor symbol on the jersey's sleeve into a heart with a radial shape at its peak; she said that love and passion, whether for hockey or for art, were at the top of her mind during the design process.

Before being commissioned by the Kraken, Ares wasn't a big hockey fan. "But seeing hockey for the first time, [I was] amazed," she said. "This mad skill, this wild energy that [the players] put out is really cool."

Along with other members of Seattle's Queer community, Ares had the spotlight a few times during Pride night's intermissions — once while riding a Zamboni (the machine used to smooth out the ice) and again while appearing on the jumbotron for a quick word.

Rich Isaac  

Pride in the NHL
Visibility is important, but beyond lip service, the Kraken did put some money where its tentacles are by holding an auction of player-signed Pride jerseys to benefit the Seattle Pride Hockey Association. The group's stated mission is "promoting and advocating for diversity and inclusiveness in the Pacific Northwest ice hockey community."

Rich Isaac  

The National Hockey League as a whole, however, has maintained its policy banning players from wearing Pride jerseys on the ice, even during warmups. That decree was made in June of last year, after a dozen or so players objected to wearing Pride colors for what they maintained were religious reasons.

That same ban briefly prohibited players from using Pride-themed stick tape as well — the same tape that was sold out by the end of the second period of Thursday's game.

Rich Isaac  

Official restrictions be damned, many NHL teams still celebrate Pride Night locally to remind their fans that hockey is indeed for everyone. They dress their mascots in Pride jerseys in lieu of their players, they feature local Queer artists, and they raise money for Queer advocacy groups, just as the Kraken did.

Now Ares has played a part in what she hopes is a better relationship between the Queer, sports, and art communities of Seattle. There have always been Queer hockey fans, but last week's game was a warm invitation for more. (It also probably helped that we beat the Ducks 4-2.)

You can find more of Nikita Ares and her work at http://www.nikitaares.com, or by visiting her Instagram @kita.licious. The Kraken's last home game this season will be Thursday, April 11, against San Jose.