© 2022

Powerful Portraits Of Heritage, Culture And Identity: With YZ

Artist, Images YZ



A summation of the female identity, lifestyle, and rich history as told through portraits of The Empress, crafted by French artist YZ. Her art is guided by a theme which centres around the most complex and captivating subject of all: the human being. The series encapsulates the diversity found in tradition and culture, pushing us to reflect on the similitude we see evident in today’s heavily uniform society.

Empress explores the cultural wealth of different communities around the world, with a specific focus on the adornments worn by women. They are often a means of embellishing the body and result from a deep aesthetic influence common to all of humanity. The adornments primarily connect to ideas of identity affirmation, as well as other meanings related to ethnic belonging, social category, purpose rituals, talismans, communication systems and even counting systems. Empress focuses on the reflection of our identity, heritage and the evolution of current society which promotes uniformisation and glorifies consumerism. Empress creates a referential universe by highlighting these contemporary women of power radiating a strong sense of culture, something that we should look to for the future of our current society.

What inspired EMPRESS?

YZ I made my first Empress during a collective exhibition at the Cafa Museum in Beijing, China, where I stayed for the duration of my artist’s residence. I wanted my work to be contextual, so I reflected on the history of China and in particular the place women have in the historical writing on this territory. Many empresses have marked the country, so I wanted to make a portrait of an empress using recycled materials using materials such as old house doors, bicycle parts, rusty metal, etc.

How are you personally connected to EMPRESS?

YZ All the series I work on have a personal meaning. As for Empress, it is the idea of portraying strong women, proud of their culture and their identity. I have always been curious about traditional cultures as they teach us a lot about ourselves. It’s almost like a pilgrimage, a spiritual quest.

Why was the traditional culture and identity of these women so important to show?

YZ I think our modern society is getting lost, we seem to favour the futile over simplicity. People now associate modernity with forgetting where we come from. It is erasing our traditional heritage whilst this must be our basis to grow from. Besides, traditional societies have many of the answers to our contemporary ills. For example traditional architecture, societal structures, traditional medicines, foods, the list goes on. And surprisingly, many people return to these traditions to find themselves.

What is the vision behind your art?

YZ I try to create referential material that evokes emotion,  so people are transformed when getting into my world. I want people to travel through my work and see what I have tried to say using a medium other than words.

What importance do you think artists have today?

YZ Art, and more specifically artists, have the power to write a story that does not have an economic motive. They see the world differently. Especially during this time, we need artists to create new stories so people can be inspired. Art has no limit, and if there is no limit then everything is possible. Today for example, if we are pragmatic, the environmental crisis suggests a “no exit” situation if we just say to people they need to reduce everything. But artists have a distinct power in being able to write the future that will drive people to change.

What aspect of art do you think is challenging?

YZ Art requires you to take risks and put yourself in danger. It is only then that there is light that emerges from the shadows. For me, even if I know the process related to the creation of a new project, I will still find myself asking the same questions again and again.


YZ, born in 1975, is a French artist who currently lives and works in Brittany. YZ, pronounced “eyes”, is committed to intuition and guided by a desire for humanity. The 2003  ‘Open your eyes’ project was her first large-scale urban project which primarily used the stencil technique. Due to  constraint – and through searching for a novel signature – Indian ink, paper and roller found their place at the centre of her work. YZ has become one of the major figures for Street Art in France. She is well recognised as one of the most active artists and enjoys international recognition in the world of street art, with exhibitions at the Cartier Foundation, the Prague Institute and the Blachère foundation.

Through a timeless aesthetic, YZ walks through her own history and reflects our time and our societies in a light that, although gentle, is nonetheless surprisingly faithful. She navigates through a multitude of projects trusting her instincts. Without any artificial input, she paints prominent female figures from the 1900’s, powerful portraits that make sense in the fight against slavery and for civil rights, as well as urban landscapes. Her approach is part of a global dynamic, through visual and poster art and videography, she creates a space with which she forges an intimate relationship.


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