Too often, people from marginalized communities, especially womxn of color, are conditioned to avoid at all costs saying no. They are taught to be agreeable, docile, complacent, and obedient in a patriarchal society.
The pressure for people to minimize their hopes, desires, and needs goes back several centuries and continues every day. The intersections of femininity, Black and Brown communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and more make this self-defeating compromise an even more insidious cycle.
It’s time for people to stop saying yes when they don’t really want to do something and instead say no. From work, relationships, and everyday responsibilities to doing favors, social justice work, and volunteering, rest and rejuvenation from the demands of life are of vital importance. Yet, that refreshment often comes last for womxn.
Fortunately, LA-based writer, actress, and poet Arielle Estoria and local visual artists Ashley Uananiau Lukashevsky and Perryn Ryan have partnered with Pure Leaf to create powerful murals in both LA (Estoria and Lukashevsky) and New York (Ryan) to champion the necessity of no for the brand’s No Is Beautiful Campaign.
Unveiled in Los Angeles and also in Manhattan and Williamsburg, New York, the mural features Estoria’s poem, “The Beautiful Art of No,” which aims to motivate viewers to be unapologetic in their resolve to stop overcommitting and giving up too much of themselves for others.
Pure Leaf also partnered with Ladies Who Launch to provide grants for women and nonbinary business owners to help alleviate burnout. Whether it’s for therapy, community-building, childcare, or something else, the grants encourage marginalized business owners to choose their wellness first.
BGN was able to speak with Estoria and Lukashevsky about their thoughts on the importance of saying no, the creation of the mural, and what they hope others will gain from it.
Estoria began by exploring some of the reasons womxn and other marginalized communities often feel afraid to say no.
“It’s this conditioning of niceness. For some reason, we’ve wrapped this conversation around no [as] not being nice. As women, we were raised to be nice and be pleasant and to be pleasing. Growing up, being told to say ‘Yes, ma’am’ or ‘Yes, sir,’ — there’s this thread of ‘Wow, that’s really polite.’ It’s this underlying conditioning that’s gearing us toward a certain mindset [and] growing up where we feel like there’s a problem with saying no,” Estoria explained.
Estoria captures how, for so many, the odds are against them when it comes to asserting boundaries because it may not seem like the polite or nice thing to do.
She takes things back to childhood and the ways in which children are expected to say hello when a stranger says hello to them. “That’s freaking weird to say hi to this person you don’t know, but they are walking by and think you’re cute. I think the same mentality goes into this yesness, where, almost in order to be pleasant, likeable, feasible to people, yes needs to be [on the tip of] our tongue.”
Similarly, Lukashevsky shared how this trepidation surrounding no impacts a diversity of people, “…specifically people who’ve been socialized as women. It’s people who’ve been raised with this mentality that it’s our responsibility to take on the responsibilities of the community of our families, to do so much emotional labor as well, on top of the other work that we have to do. It’s this mindset of having to say yes to everything as well as being socialized as women to feel our opportunities are limited.”
Lukashevsky points to the socially constructed and gendered nature of no and how not everyone experiences the same risks when it comes to declining certain expectations.
“We have to say yes to every opportunity that we have for fear of not succeeding, and that really translates to a lot of people who are women, nonbinary, trans, masculine. Feeling like we don’t have as many opportunities or really the freedom to choose our own path forward sometimes because we have to say yes to every single thing that comes. Especially as an artist, especially as women and nonbinary people of color, I feel like we are afraid of losing out on opportunities.”
Both Estoria and Lukashevsky are hopeful that their work can be part of changing the narrative around marginalized communities that are making choices that best support their well-being. Estoria sees poetry as a powerful medium to use for a mural and believes it truly resonates with others.
Said Estoria, “I think there’s something about poetry that’s a little sticky note to your heart. No matter how much you think you’ve taken in, there’s something about it that just sticks with you. I think visual art is the same way. You see a piece in a museum or in a gallery, and you’re like, ‘What is it about this piece that makes me feel a lot of things?’ So, when you incorporate those two, it’s this electric visual experience and also a little sticky note to your heart. You have the visuals in your head, and then you have the words on your heart, and there’s something really dynamic about the combination of those two.”
The visuals that Estoria is referring to were crafted by Lukashevsky and Ryan. As a Hawaiian native, Lukashevsky enjoys incorporating a lot of florals and pastorals in her art because she misses the vibrant nature of the island while living in LA. She also shared the personal significance that the mural art holds for her.
Said Lukashevsky, “I also love bringing in butterflies. That’s a metaphorical icon that I’m obsessed with lately. I’m just drawing butterflies all the time because I think about our relationship with them. We can see them as ancestors. We can also see them as guides for ourselves because we’ve moved through so many cycles in our life, or sometimes you’re in a chrysalis. Sometimes you’re a caterpillar. There’s always this movement forward into becoming this creature that is really magical that can spread its wings and really live in its power. So, I always try to bring butterflies into every piece I do right now. This mural is no exception because I just think that they’re really inspiring and beautiful and whimsical.”
Every part of her art for the mural carries a liberatory message, including the illustration of a Brown-skinned person with purple hair who appears to be at peace amidst the pastorals. For Lukashevsky, each figure is saying no to something in order to live as their authentic selves.
In regard to the purple-haired person, Lukashevsky says, “Even though this person presents as more femme, we don’t know their gender identity. This is probably a nonbinary person who’s just very feminine. In everything that I create, there’s queerness to it because I’m a very queer person, and through translation, everything I make is queer. The most important thing for me was the expression on their face — just feeling rested, peaceful, powerful, and really doing their own thing. Depicting this person in this way and having shockingly purple hair and a beautiful body and a peaceful face — it’s a reminder of what we can all strive toward.”
The mural is an ode to saying yes to finding more balance in life by freely stepping away from decisions that steal joy, freedom, and health. From Monday, November 1, to Sunday, November 21, 2021, Los Angeles locals can visit the mural in Venice Beach, and New Yorkers can visit the murals in Williamsburg.
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Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly and Medium, is a writer for CSULB’s the Daily49er, is a managing editor for Watermark, her school’s academic literary journal and is an assistant editor at Angels Flight • literary west. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond.