ART TALK: Tenbeete Solomon, DC Muralist Shares Her Favorite Spots on U Street

Tenbeete Solomon paints a mural outside of K Street shop &pizza in Washington, D.C. As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, Tenbeete Solomon has long been surrounded by art. Her dad was an accomplished artist who went to Parsons on a full ride. “Art was in my life before I knew I was an artist,” she says. | PHOTO BY SHAUGHN COOPER

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DC Muralist Shares Her Favorite Spots in the Historic U Street Neighborhood

If you’ve ever taken a walk around downtown DC, public art practically jumps out at you from the walls. That’s certainly the case with the bold and beautiful work of Tenbeete Solomon, aka Trap Bob, whose art can be seen in U Street, NOMA, and Takoma Park, just to name a few spots. Her vibrant, stylized art usually comes with a message whether it’s obvious—like “Fight The Power” or “Know Your Rights”—or merely symbolized in the powerful Black figures she depicts.

As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, Solomon has long been surrounded by art. Her dad was an accomplished artist who went to Parsons on a full ride. Ironically, it was something she never considered for herself until the end of her college career studying marketing at University of Maryland. “Art was in my life before I knew I was an artist and then marketing came in before I knew I needed that,” she says. “If you’re creative, having a business education is really important.”

Soon, she put that education and skill to good use when she started getting her work into DC galleries. “When I started out, I was obsessed with painting hands, so I was able to have a series with some consistency,” she says, adding that she was influenced early on by the bright and whimsical images of Lisa Frank. “My first year I was showing in DC, I did about 50 shows. Yeah, a show like every weekend.”


PHOTO COURTESY OF TRAP BOB

DC businesses small and large came calling and she was commissioned to paint a mural for BET promoting Lena Waithe’s show Twenties outside of Cloak & Dagger. Plus, her work can be found in Alethia Tanner Park in NOMA, outside K Street shop &pizza, on Takoma Park picnic tables, and on the exterior wall of Hotel Zena on 14th Street.

This ever-present public art is one of the reasons Solomon loves DC, which she says is vastly different from its tourist reputation. “The cultural and creative scene doesn’t have anything to do with Capitol Hill and politics,” she says. “It’s very colorful, bold, and loud. Everyone is doing art, hosting live shows, and Go-Go is playing somewhere multiple times a day.”

The U Street area specifically speaks to Solomon—not only because some of her work can be found there, but because of its historical significance and feeling of community. Known in the 1920s as “Black Broadway,” U Street was the center of DC’s cultural, artistic, and activist scenes.

“It feels like a gathering hub for people in the city,” she says, mentioning iconic spots like Ben’s Chili Bowl and the T-Mobile store, famous for blasting Go-Go beats. “Everyone seems to end up at U Street and Shaw and there’s just always something to do no matter the time of day.”

Next time you visit U Street, be sure to pop by some of Solomon’s favorite places for live music and vegan eats, snap a photo with one of her murals, and appreciate the significant role the neighborhood has played in shaping DC.

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