A 7-year-old stuck at a railroad crossing stands along a stretch of metal tracks that extend as far as the eye can see. A swiftly approaching train of 70-plus graffiti-cloaked cars—painted with culture and history—flies by the face of a child, offering her first glimpse into the world of street art.
The impression that blossomed at the train tracks stayed with her, and as she grew into adulthood, she found herself at a crossroads.
She needed to decide between a lucrative day job or risk stability to follow a 7-year-old’s dream.
She chose the latter.
Known to the public as MegZany, the distinguished Los Angeles street artist with fiery pink hair and ever-present spray can in hand, has distinctive installations and murals that relay messages of feminism and equality around the globe.
With every spritz of paint onto a stencil, she crafted art in a quaint corner of a posh Melrose Avenue storefront during a recent mission, as pedestrians stole a glance or two at the paint-splattered, denim wearing, street artist formulating art from the top of a ladder.
“It’s cathartic for me. So when I’m actually putting the can to stencil, that’s something I get to leave behind,” MegZany said. “Even if 500 people walk by it, but only one person saw it and ended up loving it and it did something for them. That’s the amazing part.”
Before taking her art to the streets, MegZany worked as a corporate recruiter for Fortune 500 companies. She even started a recruiting business. She was in the industry for eight years.
“I was there for 14-hour days helping someone else build their dream and it was something that I was passionate about, but it just really struck a nerve. I wanted to do something for me,” MegZany said. “I really hit rock bottom and then I started soul searching. I want to do something that I can be batshit crazy about. And so everything just pointed me down the path of street art.”
MegZany is best known for her “Courage Has No Gender” campaign. She features the faces of those that diverge from gender norms and pave the way for a generation that fosters courage and inclusion.
“Courage Has No Gender” was started while working in the corporate world. MegZany’s obstacles as a woman in the corporate world led her to question her calling.
“I started because I was feeling the doors were just closing in my face because I was a woman trying to build my own business. And so I had written on a post-it note, ‘Courage Has No Gender,’ just so that I could give myself that push to continue to be grateful for, but also to just have that fire inside me to keep going. And it was like a couple months in from me doing street art, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that message that I wrote for myself, I really need to share that and I needed to get that out,’” MegZany said.
MegZany said gender shouldn’t hinder one’s success.
“People say that I’m the feminist street artist and I’ll take it. I mean, I’m fighting for women and fighting for equality,” she said.“ I want everyone to have the same jumping off point, and then what you do with it from there is your choice. But we should all be in the same start line together.”
Lizy Dastin, a UCLA and SMCC art history professor specializing in contemporary and urban practices, said MegZany’s message of gender equality is political.
“Meg is a lot more self consciously feminist in her agenda and not a lot of artists that I’m familiar with have that kind of politicized message of gender equality,” Dastin said. “She puts a spin of positivity on that and she definitely has that political agenda, but then it’s couched between ultimately seeking the positive.”
MegZany said a key to her success is living without apprehension.
“Nothing has been handed to me. The highs and lows of being an artist are real, but I pick myself up all the time. There is no such thing as having a bad day in my eyes. It’s like going through and figuring out what is great and what I am grateful for,” MegZany said. “I wouldn’t do anything different. I think all the events that have happened in my life got me to where I am today, but I think a lot of that is seizing every fucking moment, every door that opens, throwing yourself through it and that’s how you live with no regrets.”
Collin Salazar, a street artist, said MegZany has a strong work ethic.
“She is going at it and working hard and not letting anything stop her. I think that’s amazing in itself and her work reflects that. It’s such a positive, forward pushing message for the feminist movement or empowering anyone, no matter who you are,” Salazar said.
MegZany’s first campaign feature for “Courage Has No Gender” was Amelia Earhart.
“I have an obsession with flight and obsession with her story and background. She was into fashion, she did all these things and then just hopped in a plane and was like, ‘This is it. Here I go,’ and I find that incredibly inspiring,” she said.
Some other courageous figures she has celebrated include Malala Yousufzai, Jane Goodall, RuPaul, Laverne Cox, Serena Williams, Ellen Degeneres, Taylor Swift, Danica Patrick, Rain Dove, Shane Ortega and Becca Longo.
MegZany said she plans to continue the project.
“ I don’t want the ‘Courage Has No Gender’ campaign to go away only because I want to evolve it and continue to celebrate people,” MegZany said.
Dastin said she admires the diversity within MegZany’s passion project.
“I love that she includes women of color and trans women. So it is a more comprehensive approach to appreciating and understanding gender, especially since we are in a time of gender intersectionality. I think that her ‘Courage Has No Gender’ aligns well with that,” Dastin said.
One of MegZany’s distinctive pieces is her interpretation of the Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. She has transformed this childhood character, combined with playful phrases, into a symbol for feminism and empowerment.
MegZany said she began painting Strawberry Shortcake to return to a nostalgic childhood message of clarity.
“Strawberry Shortcake really was kind of like, ‘How do we get back to our roots?’ You know, when we were kids we would sit down in front of the TV and the messages that we would receive from cartoons was so clear cut,” MegZany said. “We need to really just get back to like, as you adult – here’s an adult message, fuck social norms, do want you want, and don’t be a dick.”
MegZany said she views Strawberry Shortcake as being an influential figure.
“Strawberry Shortcake is badass. Like if she was here in 2018, I think she would morph into something cool. And I think that there’s a lot to be celebrated with her too. I want to imagine that she is a badass feminist and is kicking ass with what she has, and if she’s making strawberry jam, she’s like rolling in the riches for it and she’s celebrated in that light,” MegZany said.
Although the perspective of street art is mixed, MegZany believes it is more than just paint on walls.
“I could see how people would say that self-sanctioned art is vandalism, however, I really believe in what I’m doing and what I’m saying and what I’m putting out there,” she said. “So in terms of vandalism, I would say it’s enriching the neighborhood. It’s enriching the building and people that are coming in the city,” MegZany said.
MegZany said she is conscious about the legality aspect of street art, however she perceives it as breathing life into a city.
“Protection of personal property is something that I think about, but it’s also enriching personal property. If I’m able to enrich someone’s personal property, I think that’s a win,” MegZany said. “It really transforms a neighborhood. It brings culture, it brings excitement, it brings color and it brings life.”
MegZany said she often finds herself drawn to walls that unexpectedly strike inspiration.
“It’s such a weird feeling when you’re walking along and then something catches your eye and you’re just like, ‘Oh yeah, I can see my art on this.’ I don’t know if it’s a six sense, because that’s just kind of weird, but it’s definitely a connection that you get with a wall and you’re just like ‘This is mine now,’” she said.
MegZany said when she is out on the street making art she sometimes fears repercussion, but the creation and completion of each piece is a act of self expression.
“If I’m out there doing something renegade, it’s like ‘Don’t get caught. I’m not prepared for this,’ but a lot of it is a celebration. I just get so excited to leave art. I’ve created something and I’ve sat there and through creating it on my computer, then going through and making the stencil of it. That’s where I spend that time,” MegZany said.
MegZany said when she creative blocks can be challenging, but staying creative gets her through.
“I mean there were of course a lot of blocks, but it’s just being persistent and continuing to do what you want to do. You just overcome them,” MegZany said. “Sometimes when I’m working on other projects, something else will come, which is why I often have to work on like three or four things at once, because things are always progressing in my subconscious.”
MegZany said that intellectual property is crucial within the community and putting her all into creating something becomes an extension of herself.
“Artists are definitely the ones that are truly living the life anytime they’re creating something that comes from deep inside,” MegZany said. “And I think that once you give that part of your soul way, I think that definitely remains. A little piece of you lives on.”
MegZany said the short shelf life of street art is bittersweet, but it’s precisely what makes it special.
“It definitely creates an urgency to look at it. It creates the culture of street art. And as much as it really hurts when a piece goes away, it’s the name of the game, and I think it’s one of the coolest pieces of it. It’s something special, the impermanence of street art,” MegZany said.