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Yasmin Hernandez: A Medium for Change

Indestructible, Mixed media work by Yasmin Hernandez celebrates the life of her deceased brother and the birth of her son.

In indigenous cultures around the world, the spirit medium is often charged with seeing beyond the material world and bringing the messages of the ancestors back to the living. The medium is messenger and guide, seer and seeker. He or she uses their gift to traverse the fine line between what exists and what has been or what will be. In this way, they help the living to carve out new possibilities, with the blessings of all of those who have come before. When deeply gifted, they even help to birth the new world that they have seen before them. As the stewards of their community’s collective and individual stories and struggles, they are also the healers who attack sickness and misfortune head on, so that new stories of promise can be born.

Puerto Rican visual artist, Yasmin Hernandez, is such a medium. Widely celebrated for her poignant depictions of Puerto Rican freedom fighters and her lush renderings of the divine feminine in Afro-Caribbean culture, Yasmin is a medium with a cause-- or many causes. A Brooklyn-born daughter of Puerto Rico, Yasmin’s art is a living dialogue on freedom that explores the narrow spaces between struggle and survival, death and creation, transformation and liberation.

“I am inspired by quests for liberation. I recognize that after all these years of working with cultural, political and spiritual themes, they all speak to the same thing and that is a search for liberation--freedom to believe, freedom to be oneself, freedom from oppression and suffering.”

In her most recent bodies of work, Luz (Light) and Linea Negra (Black Line), Yasmin departs from themes of cultural and political resistance against colonial oppression in Puerto Rico (which she calls her “nationless-nation”) and its diaspora, to explore the ubiquitous line between life and death and the freedom narratives that live there. While her dual roles of artist and activist have always inspired her to use her work to teach about important social issues, her most intimate trials and triumphs were not often represented in her work. Luz and Linea Negra represent a rich and ever changing dialogue with herself and her community, precisely about those things.

“I became pregnant two months after my brother's cancer diagnosis. [He] ended his battle with Multiple Myeloma just two weeks after [my son’s] first birthday… Becoming a mother and watching my brother sick and dying at the very same time helped me understand that liberation comes in many forms.”

Yasmin was forever changed by the death and birth in her life, as she was forced to become intimately acquainted with deep suffering, profound joy, and the limitations of the American healthcare system. Both experiences forced her to demand dignity for the dying and the living. Like the line between life and death, the relationship between personal freedom and broader struggles for human rights and social justice was blurred. Only the act of creating art helped her to slowly unravel the layers of experience.

While she wrestles with the language to explain why this deeply personal work might have social significance, the relationship swiftly crystallizes as she speaks.

“Most of us are just battling to survive, to live free of sickness [and] pain, to have a certain basic quality of life... In [organizing] circles people talk about the ‘masses’ but if you break that down, you have to consider the preciousness of one life. [As activists] we have to work to make one life better because every large political struggle is really driven by a these ‘little’ human experiences.”

Luz and Linea Negra, are these very “little human experiences” come to life in mixed media works which also challenge her tradition of single medium works on paper or canvas. Luz, simply stated, celebrates not only her brother’s life, but the dynamic dance between life and death which actually gives meaning to all of our lives. Honoring pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, Linea Negra honors a timeless strand of feminine power not unlike the ancient, water goddesses of her early collections. Jovial yet purposeful, Yasmin elaborates on Linea Negra, which seems to emerge as the treasured fruit of a bitter-sweet seed:

“At the present moment I am particularly inspired by the radical or controversial notion of liberation through birthing. It may seem to run counter to a mainstream feminism that has heralded birth control as a source of liberation [for American women]. However, as a Puerto Rican woman who knows of the mass sterilization campaigns on our women in the 20th century, I have this provocative notion that birthing more Puerto Ricans somehow becomes an act of resistance.”

She chuckles. “I am not staging a protest in which I birth 50 children. I am passionately preoccupied, however, with the need to help all women who do want to birth find a way to do so in a safe and dignified manner... Linea Negra arose from the experience of having birthed my son at home with a midwife [and] turns to my spiritual upbringing to consider the sacred elements of birthing intended, practiced and taught by our ancestors… the black lines that many of us still carry [on our bodies], become a metaphor, a marking of a rite of passage.”

With a seemingly relentless stream of personal change urging her to tell a new story, Yasmin’s commitment to social change is unwavering.

“I do not subscribe to the idea of art for arts sake. I prefer to work with the concept found in indigenous communities globally that art is utilitarian or ceremonial. Throughout our history it has been fundamental in resistance struggles for survival… Art is where I channel. It is where I can connect with other human beings. Right now I am looking for healing for myself and for others, an affirmation or validation for people, an opportunity to celebrate that life goes. We don’t do that enough these days.“

Indeed, we do not. It takes a good medium to see that.

For more information about Yasmin Hernandez, visit:

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.


Okeny-Lucia's picture

Intriguing art piece!

Dear Mel,
I see the philosophical point of view in life and death from the description.Maybe a life well celebrated in death! That is Yasmin ,taking us through the inner life processes of human beings and an attainment of piece,which is an ultimate goal of our souls.
The language is strong with flow of poetic version and an genre of writing.Well captured spoken words,the pros flows smoothly to keep the reader in motion with the artistic mind of the profiled person.
This is great work Mel,unique writer in the artistic world.
Thank you

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

ikirimat's picture

Yasmim is such a strong woman

Its a sad story but I am happy that Yasmin is healing. Her story is so touching. Well written story and I look forward to reading more from you.Her website is so artistic. good way of keeping memory of loved ones alive.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

BlueSky's picture


I agree so much with Yasmin's statement: "As activists, we have to work to make one life better". We should never move our focus beyond that, for if we leave the 'one' out, the whole cannot be made whole. Yes, we want global changes affecting all future generations, and yet it is by valuing the 'one' that the many will experience soundness in every part.

Lah Tere's picture

Loving this!

Amazing! I am so proud of being your sister! <3 Love u both! <3 I learn so much from you both! <3

<3 and light,
Lah Tere

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Spiritual Viewpoint

Thank you for sharing this story about Yasmin. She is an inspiring artist, not afraid to look at the realities of life and death. She is a both a soul-builder and a community-builder! You convey her story beautifully!

Leslie Stoupas

malba66's picture

Thank you women! Yasmin's

Thank you women! Yasmin's personal evolution has lessons in it for all of us. I think that it is about striking a healthy balance between micro- and macro- issues and impact (the community and the individual). Thank you for reading and sharing!

Ruth Beedle's picture

Profoundly beautiful article

Profoundly beautiful article - both in the woman presented and the words of the woman presenting. Thank you for this lovely, lush offering.


Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture


What a beautiful piece of work! It reads more like a poem to me than anything else. You so clearly paint a beautiful vision of this woman and her art. Thank you for sharing this. I doubt that many people in the US actually know the history of Puerto Rico--it would be nice to include a little history to give people even more context. For instance, I know nothing of the forced sterilization campaigns that you speak of--but it sounds like something we in the US should know about !

Keep up the amazing work,


"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Karoline's picture

Wonderful . . .

It's so refreshing to see this kind of story - I am inspired by this connection to the soul . . .

Barbara M Bracewell's picture

Brilliantly Done!

Fantastic reading. Very insightful and moving as well. This article transported me as I read it and being an African I certainly can identify with mediums, the spirit world, the issues of women and childbirth plus quality healthcare or the lack of it in more instances than not. Yasmin's art is phenomenal and so is the lady herself. Your article brings her art to life as well as the fascinating woman that she is. Thanks for such a well-written piece of work.


mrbeckbeck's picture

Wow wow wow!

Great work here! I loved reading it, and am left thinking about all the issues it raises. Very well done piece of journalism, on topics that we just don't see enough about, beautifully written. :)

She is an inspiring woman, and I love the quote:
"In [organizing] circles people talk about the ‘masses’ but if you break that down, you have to consider the preciousness of one life. [As activists] we have to work to make one life better because every large political struggle is really driven by a these ‘little’ human experiences.”

Day by day, in small ways we are all making our difference. I love that message and try to integrate that into my work and personal life. Clearly Yasmin has a lot to teach us, and her words do so in one way, and her art does so in another... thanks for bridging the gap for us and introducing us to her.

Again, great job and thank you so much!
Warm wishes for a joyful and prosperous 2012!

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

MaDube's picture

Beautiful piece of work, wow.

Beautiful piece of work, wow. You have a beautiful and artistic way of expressing yourself. You transported me into Yasmin's life and I especially loved the part when you explained how her experience with losing a life and giving life simultaneously shaped her understanding of life. Beautiful, really.

Greengirl's picture


Your style of writing is very artistic and I found it difficult to draw a line between it and the personality you were uncovering. As I read on, I was beginning to wonder if my reason for adjudging your piece as being artistic had anything to do with the fact that you were writing about an Artist. I am sure the answer is no, because you've just got it. Guess what too, you chose the right personality. Yasmin Hernandez certainly resonates with your writing style and I am touched and inspired by her depth and creativity.
Beyond Yasmin, your submission is an artistic piece.

Very Warm Regards,


Mukut's picture

Beautiful article.

Beautiful article.

Mukut Ray

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