Ms. Yellow’s murals bring women’s empowerment and social issues to the forefront worldwide

Art has always coursed through Ms. Yellow’s blood. 

It is evident in her work, colorfully found in the streets of Long Beach on the side of a holistic healing shop, in Rancho Dominguez at the Del Amo Swap Meet and internationally on various walls throughout the world.

“It’s something that has been with me for a long time,” Ms. Yellow said to the Signal Tribune, noting that she was forging her artistic skills since the early ages of around three or four. She painted her first mural 16 years ago after some coaxing from her friends.

Hailing from Long Beach, Nuria Ortiz, internationally recognized by her artist name, Ms. Yellow, has captivated the attention of the community with her bright murals, often depicting “magical worlds” as she calls them, many carrying messages regarding social justice issues and embodying women empowerment.

“My work has evolved a lot over the years,” Ms. Yellow said. “As time goes on and as you live your life, there’s certain issues that cannot be ignored.”

“Social justice and women empowerment is something that I’ve been really passionate about for such a long time because I’ve been put in situations where my safety would be compromised or I would kind of feel like ‘what’s going on?’ and it would have to deal with authority and or being a woman,” Ms. Yellow said.

Mural created by Ms. Yellow for Slanguage at FAR Bazaar, which took place at Cerritos College on Jan. 28–29, 2017. The piece is a representation of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in Mexico. The 43 missing students went missing in 2014 when they were traveling to a protest in Iguala, after their buses were intercepted by local police and military forces. (Karla M. Enriquez)

Ms. Yellow felt like these issues should be brought to the forefront, so she began integrating them into her artwork. 

However, it hasn’t always been received well. Ms. Yellow noted that there were times where men scoffed at her work for acknowledging women’s issues.

“I think that as an artist, we have a voice, and I didn’t really feel comfortable with my voice when I was young, and art helped me to feel powerful with my own voice. It’s totally pushed me up like ‘hey, it’s okay to speak about these things even if it makes other people uncomfortable,” the artist said of raising awareness on societal issues. 

One such piece depicting women’s empowerment and culture is located at the Del Amo Swap Meet in Rancho Dominguez.

It appears majestic in size, facing Santa Fe Avenue. A myriad of bright colors surround a woman holding an orange flame in her open palm against a “bordado” (embroidered) blouse. The word ‘Resilient’ appears in black embroidery complimenting the colorful flowers embroidered near the neck of the blouse. An Aztec serpent blends from green to yellow behind the woman.

The woman in the mural is Ms. Yellow’s old high school friend by the name of Erminia.

The features of the woman depicted in the painting are not Eurocentric, something that was done deliberately.

Ms. Yellow’s latest piece stands at the Del Amo Swapmeet in Rancho Dominguez. The Del Amo Swap Meet was a place often visited by Ms. Yellow since childhood, bringing this art experience full circle for her. (Karla M. Enriquez | Signal Tribune)

“Every time I see a mural of a woman, [it] always has typical European features, nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to paint a different type of girl. There’s so many people that look so many different types of ways […],” Ms. Yellow said.

Ms. Yellow noted that the piece is about culture, being true to one’s roots, and honoring one’s ancestors.

“[It’s about] knowing and understanding your power and how much you have that you can carry it, like how much change you can create as yourself,” she said. “Sometimes as women or as people of color, it may be any person from any walk of life, [who] sometimes just forgets, what they’re capable of.”

The fireball in the woman’s hand in the Del Amo Swapmeet mural represents accumulation of strength and power after relearning it. (Karla M. Enriquez | Signal Tribune)

For Ms. Yellow painting this mural was her childhood and her artistic life coming full circle. She noted that she had been going to the Del Amo Swap Meet since she was a kid, before being asked by Duem, the curator of the walls, to do the mural. 

Ms. Yellow is not only using her voice through her murals to support causes she believes in. Currently, she is using her art to raise funds for the WomenShelter of Long Beach. 

She partnered with Long Beach Gives, Arts Council for Long Beach, LB Living and A Cause Worth Wearing, to make a design that will be used on T-shirts available for pre-order online with proceeds going to the women’s shelter.

WomenShelter of Long Beach has faced financial setbacks due to the pandemic. According to a previous interview with Director Mary Ellen Mitchell, the shelter has received an increase in calls made to the domestic violence crisis line. This has resulted in a month-long waitlist for its housing services, but the shelter along with other domestic violence agencies in the state continue to work to bring their clients the resources and housing they need. 

Knowing this, Ms. Yellow chose the women’s shelter as the cause she wanted to support with her design, adding that she admired the shelter for their inclusivity. 

Read more: WomenShelter of Long Beach to host virtual fundraiser events in honor of Women’s History Month

The shirt features three women of different cultures and races enveloped in Ms. Yellow’s signature colorful detail. The words “see us, hear us, believe us,” sit at the top of the design. 

“This is what it should be about, community and helping to self-sustain resources that are in the brink of not existing,” the artist said of the partnership, also taking the time to thank the organizations for making it happen. 

And community is what kept Ms. Yellow going as the pandemic began and put her plans on pause.

Ms. Yellow’s mural located at 2841 E. Broadway in Long Beach was done in 2018. It was inspired by the feeling of having to stop to recenter oneself from negativity and noise. (Karla M. Enriquez | Signal Tribune)

“In the beginning, it definitely made me reassess my situation as far as like, you know what I’m doing, my work, how much income I’m bringing in and are we going to be okay,” she said.

She noted that art is always the first thing that gets taken away when there isn’t enough funding, however, she has been pleasantly surprised to see that art has been put at the forefront throughout the pandemic.

“People haven’t forgotten about artists, there’s all these artists grants to help give artists money to continue to pay their rent,” she said.

One of the organizations is the Arts Council of Long Beach, who invited Ms. Yellow to paint boarded up businesses in 2020. Since that invitation Ms. Yellow has received other opportunities to work during the pandemic.

“I’m so happy to see that people are still reaching out to artists still looking for art, to help them make sense of what’s going on and help them take their mind away from what’s going on,” Ms. Yellow said.

Ms. Yellow’s signature colorful style is depicted in this mural titled “VS” in El Paso, Texas. According to Ms. Yellow’s Instagram page, the piece can be interpreted in two ways, both involving bravery and empowerment. (Photo courtesy of Ms. Yellow)

Ms. Yellow’s art can be admired not just locally, but internationally in places like Osaka, Japan where one of her colorful floral depictions adorns a wall. In Cairo, Egypt she joined three other artists as part of a woman artist exchange program backed by the United States State Department and created a five story mural representing women empowerment and cultural unity. Her murals also embellish the walls of China, Haiti, Australia, Spain, Mexico and France.

The opportunities that Ms. Yellow has had and created for herself worldwide are a long shot of the first mural she created 16 years ago. Behind her are the cries of those who didn’t believe she could make a career out of her art.

“Art has been so consistent and so present in my life […] it’s just so natural for me to have stuck by it,” she said.

Follow Ms. Yellow on her official Instagram @msyellowart.

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