Exclusive: Muralist Sand Oner Redefines the Latino Immigrant Experience Through her Artwork
Sand Oner had a dream and a plan—to take over the world with her art.
The muralist decided early on that she wanted to break away from the traditional careers her friends, family and community were going after and create a path for herself doing what she loved.
"Usually, where I come from, all the women in my area became either single mothers, mothers, housewives medical assistants, dental assistants, they work in restaurants, a lot of them became strippers," she tells People Chica.
However, she wanted to step out of the box,"I just thought: what if I could be a bit rebellious and quit my job frying chicken and maybe become an artist? What if I can represent all the women that I'm supposed to be through my art and be that rebellious girl that went against the norm and went against what our Hispanic culture hoped for us to become as women?"
Despite the pushback from everyone around her, Oner made a name for herself and became one of Los Angeles' most renowned muralists and graffiti artists. Known as the "Doll Maker of Los Angeles" her signature doll designs have been plastered throughout the streets of LA, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and in countries such as Mexico and Guatemala.
"I grew up in Los Angeles, California, so I would always see murals all over the city. But most of the murals in L.A. depict the struggles of immigrants and the struggles that we go through as Hispanics," she explains to People Chica. "So I [thought], I want to be an artist, but I do not want to show pain and struggle. What if I could change that and paint a doll smiling in this area where everyone's scared to go into?"
She began showing a new side to the life of immigrants through her murals and graffiti art, bringing joy to everyone who came across them.
"When I started painting my murals and I noticed that a lot of girls, a lot of señoras, a lot of people in different areas were like, 'I saw your mural and it made me so happy,'" she says. "I started infiltrating the communities through my dolls by not by painting a woman crying, [instead] painting a doll eating corn, eating chips and it would say "everything's going to get better.'"
Her signature "Sand Dolls" have become iconic pieces from the East LA native who is now the owner of two galleries in Los Angeles and Orange county. The dolls are featured in murals as well as purses, tumblers, clothing and other merchandise.
"I create each doll after an emotion," she explains. "It's an emotion that you have felt or I have felt. Let's say you have 'Smooth Hustler' and she wears glasses, she has a ponytail, brown hair. Aside from the physical look of the doll there's a story to her. The story that I touch with her is breaking up with someone that doesn't love you back in order to change your career and be a smooth hustler."
The creation of the Sand Dolls and her functional art have become inspirations for people within her community that see their experiences reflected in her personal story and functional artwork.
"I would sell food with my mother, I grew up with a single mom [and] without knowing, so many girls that grew up with [single] mothers would come up to me and tell me 'I bought your lanyard because I am you and this is my mom and me and I feel like I'm you," she says. "Because you are becoming successful am going to become [successful] too."
As she continues to grow her empire and evolve within the artistic sphere, she hopes more women will find the inspiration to chase after their dreams and believe in their ability to build a beautiful life for themselves without fear.
"Everybody thought I was crazy in my home. My mother would tell me, 'Why don't you maybe go to school and you get a degree in something? And do your art as a hobby?'" she says thinking back to the early days of her career. "I proved that you can do something very creative and become successful coming from a Hispanic household and you can break the stereotype."
She adds, "My job was a job that didn't exist. I'm going to be a painter. I'm going to paint murals. I'm going to make a lot of money. I'm going to retire my mom. I'm going to own a warehouse. I'm going to employ all my family. And everyone thought I was crazy. I have created a successful business through my own marriage by myself with something that wasn't real."
You can find Sand Oner's merchandise and galleries at www.sandoner.com