Justice is something you fight for. That’s what Erin Yoshi’s parents told her before bed, repeating the phrase like a prayer sandwiched between dinner and a goodnight kiss. Now grown, Erin recounts the bedtime lesson in a new documentary that explores the muralist’s passion for social justice.
Produced by NOT REAL ART parent company Crewest Studio, the short film follows Erin through Los Angeles as she describes her storied career in public art, activism, and social justice. “I started doing social justice art because I considered myself a community organizer and activist way before I considered myself an artist,” says Erin, whose work is splashed across billboards and building facades around the world, but particularly in Los Angeles, where she lives. With a focus on environmental issues and forgotten histories, Erin’s art and activism stem from her childhood growing up in a Japanese American family.
“Three generations of my family were interned,” she says, explaining that her father spent his own childhood in a Japanese internment camp, forcibly relocated along with thousands of other Japanese American citizens during WWII. “I really think that’s why I always led with social justice and community organizing as a background for my projects and work. Art can change cultures, art can change opinions, art can really open up people to a completely new perspective that they never would have considered beforehand.”
One way Erin creates new perspectives is through storytelling. “I really take time to research and investigate the stories I want to tell beforehand,” she says, adding that effective storytelling begins with listening. “One thing I love to do is reach out to elders in the community to ask them questions; they hold so much knowledge!”
To hammer home her point, Erin shares the story of Indigenous elder Julia Bogony, who belongs to Southern California’s native Tongva tribe. “[Julia] told me this story about her and her granddaughter, how they have this connection to butterflies,” Erin says, pointing to a luscious, butterfly-laden portrait hanging above her. In it, an elderly woman cleaves her hair in two, like she’s parting a river. Gossamer wings spill out from the chasm in shades of cornsilk, mint, and lilac. “I really love that story because butterflies also symbolize so much transformation,” Erin continues, before promising her portrait of Julia, now passed, to the elder’s granddaughter.
“When you’re inclusive of the community, [you can see] how much more it touches,” says Erin. “[You can see] the power of art to bring hope and healing in times of trauma.”
Watch our documentary on Erin Yoshi below, then visit her website for more information.