Yamasaki grew up in a large, diverse family full of artists, activists and teachers in a factory town north of Detroit. She entered college in 1995 with the intention of pursing social work, but found her way to art through children’s books and a lucky internship with legendary illustrator, Ed Young.
After college, she began teaching Spanish in both the Detroit and New York City public schools and eventually landed at the MFA Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts just days before 9/11. Her grandfather was chief architect of the WTC and in the months that followed the attacks, she watched as the Twin Towers suddenly became a symbol of a pro-war agenda. With that as the backdrop, Yamasaki started thinking seriously about the type of symbols we have the opportunity to create as artists. She found her way to muralism shortly after earning her MFA in 2003.
She has traveled widely, painting over 80 walls in diverse communities around the world. During that time, she also worked for 12 years as a teaching artist at Ballet Tech, The NYC Public School for Dance. In recent years, Yamasaki’s work has paid particular attention to communities impacted by incarceration, both on the inside and on the outside. From a young age, Yamasaki was aware of the profound impact of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans and has related the experience of her family and extended community to that of communities facing parallel issues around civil liberties, detention, identity and resilience.
Yamasaki also writes and illustrates children’s books that explore themes and stories similar to those that appear in her murals. EVERYTHING NAOMI LOVED, co-authored with Ian Lendler (Norton Young Readers), will be released in Fall, 2020 and explores a child’s relationship to her gentrifying neighborhood and how she uses muralism as a way to cope with the big feelings brought on by change. Currently, she is working on her 7th book for children, DAD BAKES, that explores the relationship between a father and daughter when the father returns home from a period of incarceration.
Yamasaki lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Amit, and their two-year-old daughter, Ayla. Prior to Ayla, they had a son, Shisa, who was stillborn close to his due date and lives on in every mural, every book, every brushstroke and tender moment of Yamasaki’s life.
TOPICS: Art, Literacy