ARTIST CRYSTAL BARBRE: A mural without nipples on the wall of a strip club. And you say Seattle is changing. Scott Moore/Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction

Alicia Amiri, the Seattle singer—and former frontwoman of the gothic darkwave spectacular Nightmare Fortress—would be proud to show you her nipples.

Her nipples were supposed to be on First Avenue day and night, night and day, in a mural outside the strip club Deja Vu Showgirls Seattle. She is the model for the octopus lady you see at right. The octopus lady who is now wearing a bra.

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Because her nipples were deemed indecent.

"I've worked at the Can Can for a really long time," Amiri told me, referring to the burlesque-themed club across the street from Deja Vu where she fills in bartending and waiting tables, and where the restrictive Washington State laws that apply to strip clubs don't apply, because, in addition to the fact that it is not strictly speaking a strip club, the dancers also wear teeny-tiny coverings on bits of their bodies.

"The girls all wear pasties," Amiri continued. "Just by the fact that they're wearing this tiny little glittery thing on their nipples means people can drink, means [the dancers] can get in people's laps—just because their nipple is colored a different color than it is naturally. Somehow that

is the insane loophole that makes it more decent. What those dancers do every day to help normalize bodies is super cool. I thought it was cool taking off my shirt [to model for the mural] in solidarity with the club right across the street."

And she "found it pretty offensive" that her body was censored lest it do harm to innocent people.

There's no law against nudity in public art in Seattle, yet there's very little of it.

There's even precedent for the neutering of topless mermaids here. The two-tailed lady in the original Starbucks logo, in 1971, had full breasts with nipples. Now her body is nothing but a cartoon hourglass.

Seattle artist Crystal Barbre was excited when Deja Vu asked her to do the piece, because it's on a wall facing Pike Place Market. She wanted to "normalize" nude female bodies by setting them smack in the middle of downtown.

Deja Vu accepted a drawing with nipples. Barbre got to work. But then word came from Deja Vu's lawyers that the rules for strip clubs are different than the rules for public art. And that they have to be extra careful, given the restrictive climate Washington already presents to strip-club owners.

The nipples would have to be covered.

"We risked it at first, and then in retrospect we went back and read through the ordinance, and we could get shut down," said Sean Dunlap of Deja Vu. "So that was when we talked to her about covering everything up, because the ordinance is so vague about what can and cannot be shown."

Barbre briefly consulted a lawyer, who advised her not to press the issue and rather to simply comply.

"I was truly heartbroken to have to paint over it," she said. "I was literally crying painting over it, and had more than a few kind passersby stop to make sure some girl on a ladder, painting a bra on some octopus lady and sobbing, was okay."

Prior to that, she'd had "so many women stop to talk to me... to say seeing the naked female body (all the models are strong women artists who live in Seattle)... made them appreciate the beauty of their own bodies."

So Barbre wasn't crying for her career. And she wasn't upset with Deja Vu. She considers Dunlap a friend, and used to work for him at Deja Vu's porn store, before she became established enough to survive on art commissions.

Her time at porn stores "was so much fun. There was never a dull moment," she said. But it made her face up to the ways that sex workers are debased and demoralized not by what they do, but by society's attitudes—and laws—about what they do. They're shamed, criminalized, isolated, and discouraged, sometimes violently, from advocating even for their own safety.

The lawyers involved seem to believe that free-flying nipples would bring punishment. (Barbre's lawyer declined to comment.)

But what does the law say?

I read the state ordinance, which forbids "pictorial or graphic representation which includes lewd matter" outside an "adult entertainment establishment."

Looking further into the code, I found that to be "lewd," an image has to "appeal to the prurient interest" and "lack serious artistic value."

Barbre's mural has serious artistic value. (On what grounds would it not?)

"Sexually explicit matter" is also forbidden, but is also exempt for "works of art."

Not guilty again.

What am I missing? Can we get the bras removed? Barbre is willing.

It's one irony-bridge too far to cover nipples in a work of art on the front of a strip club where inside, the whole place is governed by moral codes that leave actual women exploited and endangered.

I'd rather strip-club laws be changed than the art. But maybe a few nipples can do some convincing first, out on the street. I'll bring my toddler and two teenagers to see them. I'll be sure our family therapist is at the ready to handle the damage to their psyches.

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As for Barbre, she is working on other murals around the city, including one in West Seattle, and now she's on a crusade.

"Now," she told me, "I'm going to paint all the nipples all over the place all of the time."

Look for them.

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