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Mexican American muralist fostering inclusion through art

Currently, you can find Hernandez's murals at Conmigo Early Education Center, The Slow Down Coffee Co., Candle Bar DSM and more.

DES MOINES, Iowa — With each stroke of her paint brush, Marissa Hernandez is changing the faces of art in Iowa.

“What I hope to do with my art is just show so many different cultures and encourage people to look outside themselves,” Hernandez said.

Her signature paintings are faces without features.

“I was drawn to portraits and I realized it didn’t really matter who I was painting as long as it could make me or someone else feel represented, so that’s kind of where the faceless portraits came about," Hernandez said. "I thought that without a face, maybe you can project your own face, or a loved one or a friend, and their face onto whatever figure they most identify with, and casts a wider reach for representation.”

Her approach took shape when she graduated college at the start of the pandemic, when she created her first mural and posted it on social media.

“The Des Moines community found me somehow and have been really supportive," she said. 

Her passion has become a career even she didn’t think was possible as a first-generation Mexican American and a daughter of immigrants. 

Turns out, her philosophy with her art is what Des Moines needed.

“I try to pay attention to things that I feel are underrepresented either in traditional art world or media," Hernandez said. "So I like to pay attention to different hair types, different body sizes – just lots of different things, like a wide range of skin tones – those things that can really make someone feel seen when they weren’t being seen before.”

Initially, Hernandez's goal was to do one mural in five years.

But after completing her first mural at Conmigo Early Education Center in English and Spanish, she’s exceeded her goal. “I’ve done probably over 25 murals and this is my third year of doing it.” 

One of those murals is at The Slow Down Coffee Co. 

“We want it to be just a very welcoming place for all and I think stuff like this helps remind us that it is all of us together, it is a village, and it includes all of us," said Slow Down owner Drew Kelso. 

Kelso loves to see Hernandez's murals around the metro.

“You don’t realize how far it will go when you celebrate somebody,” he said. 

Hernandez's work goes beyond murals: her art is featured on puzzles and coffee bag designs right at Slow Down. 

Kelso is happy to see Hernandez grow as an artist and feature her work in other Des Moines locations. 

“It’s beautiful to watch it unfold," he said. 

Hernandez says she is grateful to celebrate cultures as her gift to the community.

“My dad is from Mexico and Spanish is his first language and it’s always been a huge part of me, honoring him," Hernandez said. "My moms grandparents are from Mexico as well, so just honoring their culture and my culture as well.”

Her dream is that younger Mexican Americans and other children of color in Des Moines will see themselves reflected in her story and her work. 

“I thought I’d have to move away to another city or just find a more realistic career," Hernandez said. "But hopefully it’s inspiring some people and showing them they can do it too. Their voices and their opinions matter and the world wants to hear what they have to say.”   

Hernandez says she's working on other projects, so expect to see more murals popping up around town. 

Currently, you can find Hernandez's work at Conmigo Early Education Center, The Slow Down Coffee Co., Candle Bar DSM and more. 

You can also check out her art on Instagram.

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