Recently completed mural in Sylmar by quartet of Latina artists.

Near the corner of Glenoaks Boulevard and Sayre Street, behind an assortment of shops that include Lani’s Nails Salon and Sparklean Laundry, lies a newly spray-painted mural completed by four Latina artists who want to inspire the community through art, and inspire other female artists to take up the craft. 

“I want [the community] to feel ‘seen,’” artist Desiree Sanchez said.

“I want them to feel heard … I want them to see their stories on the wall,” Sanchez continued. “We’ve had residents that live on this block [coming to watch them work] and they’re super excited of the new view that they have right outside their windows. I want the message to really sink in.”

The mural, titled “Ancestral Healing,” is a collaboration between the No Going Back LA and 11:11 Projects — a women-led art and culture nonprofit organization — and the Art 4 [CHANGE] campaign, whose aim is to engage youth in public art through self-expression and mentorship.  

As part of a series of community events, the campaign hosted a workshop in early February for the four artists — Mr. B Baby (Michelle Ruby), Ms. Yellow (Nuria Ortiz), Ahlise Vela and Sanchez — to mentor attendees and to hear their stories.

The artists took those stories and used them as inspiration to create their mural. They began working on Feb. 15, sketching and painting their mural alongside Sayre Street. They finished on Sunday, Feb. 20.

Starting next to another mural, completed in the 1990s, is a bright yellow sun illuminating the background, shining on a woman with dark red hair and surrounded by flowers. The scene then transitions to a starry sky of deep purple and blue; a small girl with a braids holds onto an orange-furred creature as it soars through the sky carrying a puzzle piece.

Towards the end of the mural lies a message: “We deserve to be heard.” 

G. Arizon/SFVS
Artists Desiree Sanchez (left) and Ms. Yellow (right) in front of the mural they had been working on since Feb. 15.

This project was the first time all four artists had met in person.

“I always do prefer to paint with women,” Ms. Yellow said. “On the side, I always get together with different groups of women all the time and just go paint like random spots or walls and stuff. There definitely is a sisterhood in that and just being comfortable amongst each other. I love that.”

The project was crystalized when No Going Back LA received a grant from the Getty Foundation, who in turn hired 11:11 Projects to curate and manage the series.

Erin Stone, co-founder and co-director of 11:11 Projects, chose the spot knowing there was a blank wall next to a completed mural and got approval from the property manager to paint it. Stone then contacted the four artists, each of whom got on board. 

“I was really happy about this project because there was no oversight necessary; like the designs didn’t need to be cleared by the city or the property owner, or even by No Going Back LA,” Stone said. 

“So the purpose here was for the artists to gain inspiration from the youth through the workshops and through the community, and then take that inspiration and create their own design.” 

On Friday, Feb. 18, the group’s fourth day of work on the mural, they were joined by 30 students from Sylmar Biotech Health Academy to watch them paint and ask them questions.

One student asked if the artists were competing with the other completed mural. Ms. Yellow put down any such notion. 

(left) Latina artist Ahlise Vela painting the edges of a puzzle piece for a mural on Sayre Street on Feb. 18.
(right) Latina artist Mr. B Baby in front the mural she and three other artists were painting on Sayre Street since Feb. 15.

“I don’t think about anything but the narrative that I’m trying to bring forth and the narrative that the community is trying to bring forth,” she said.

“I don’t think about competition. I don’t think about anything like that. It’s healthy to compete and everything, but that’s not my focus.” 

Although the inspiration for the mural came from other youths, the artists did find ways to incorporate their own styles into the mural.

Vela has painted professionally for 10 years and is known for armless little pink rabbits, which she painted into the mural. One such rabbit holds up the “We deserve to be heard” sign.

“I had a couple characters I wanted to throw in there,” the artist said, “something that speaks to me but then also contributes to the whole thing. So a couple of my characters are holding up puzzle pieces, which is kind of the whole thing — it’s bringing everything together.”

Mr. B Baby’s artwork — the small braided-hair girl holding onto the foot of a flying creature — reflects her sense of whimsical and colorful pieces.

“I think with most of my work … I want people to be able to relate to it, so we use a lot of cultural elements and just bright, vibrant colors to bring joy to the community. It’s really just a message about self-growth,” she said. 

The artists hope that their women-led mural will motivate more female artists to enter an artistic arena that most of them agree is male-dominated.

“Some of our voices get really silenced over time,” Vela said. “[The artists want to] help express what everyone is feeling and to get women voices out there. We’re out here lifting ladders, we’re out here with spray cans and that’s kind of like a ‘you’re a boy’ thing.”

The mural on Sayre Street, completed on Feb. 20, was painted by four Latina artists over the course of six days.

Sanchez recounted how, in February 2020, she went to an elementary school where she used to work to paint a mural. She encountered one of her old students, who asked her why she was painting on the wall if she wasn’t a boy.

“We had a talk. I actually had [the student] help me paint too, so she could see that, yes, she can do it,” Sanchez said. “I think for us as women in this field, we do get eyes on us differently than the male artists do. … I want everybody to know that this can be possible for them.”

In terms of advice for other artists, each of the four had a similar message: go for it.

“Just follow your heart,” Mr. B Baby said. “Do what feels right for you. And remember, it’s always about the journey to enjoy your time and enjoy every day.”