Marissa Hernandez’s artwork showcases marginalized people — those who might not fit in the mold of what Americans are supposed to look like.
Hernandez is a young artist who wants to reflect acceptance of all nationalities in her images. Her desire to represent people with various body shapes and colors stems from her own personal struggles.
“I struggled with identity,” she said. “I went to a predominately white school. Not everyone was accepting and nurturing of myself. I often didn’t feel understood.”
Her artwork increased in popularity after the death of George Floyd in 2020. After that, more companies and individuals requested artwork celebrating diversity.
Hernandez wasn’t always sure she would have a career in art. She took art classes in high school, but she didn’t consider it seriously until a professor at Kirkwood College encouraged her love of math and art.
She attended Drake University and obtained a degree in painting. After graduation, Drake selected Hernandez for a one-year artist-in-residence position at Mainframe Studios.
“It felt good to be recognized,” she said. “I never believed I could do it as a career. I’ve had lots of encouragement with parents and professors.”
She painted her first mural at Conmigo, a bilingual early education center in Des Moines. She has designed beer can labels for Exile Brewing. Her artwork was featured by Des Moines Public Schools at Cattell Elementary. There, she pulled unedited images from the students’ drawings into the mural.
“It was super rewarding,” she said. “It was nice for the students to be validated.”
Small businesses are eager to showcase diverse people in artwork. As Hernandez’s murals and paintings sell, admirers comment on how the paintings resonate with them. She often incorporates images from her Latino heritage.
“Some people who like my work have never been represented in paintings — Blacks, Latinos,” she said. “Every day in life, they are told they aren’t beautiful. They can see themselves in my artwork all the time.”
Being an artist, Hernandez said her biggest challenge is the unknown.
“My income isn’t guaranteed. I have to keep fresh ideas coming. It gets daunting,” she admitted. “I’m sometimes too hard on myself.”
Hernandez said she felt there are many opportunities for artists in the Des Moines area.
“The Des Moines art community is kind to me as a person,” she said. “They think highly of me. I feel connected here. I didn’t always have that growing up.”
Her goal is to be a catalyst for showcasing diversity. She encourages others to open their minds and to support and welcome all types of people, allowing them to celebrate their unique differences.
“I like seeing the marginalized thrive,” she said. “If you feel that way, please realize how important you are — even if the world isn’t always kind. Your opinions matter. You’re allowed to take up space. Your voice is important.”
Marissa Hernandez’s artwork will be displayed at the Polk County Heritage Gallery beginning Thursday, May 5. The theme is “identity” and titled “Who We Are.” ♦