Vázquez is a Chicano artist with a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts and a MFA from Montclair State University. She has been involved in the Newark art scene for several years. She was born in her ancestral land of Texas, and grew up in California. The daughter of migrant field workers, she is rooted in her Mexican-American heritage. Traversing both worlds, she is well aware of the “othering” of migrants. She encompasses her experiences in the fields and migrations in her work of creature making and specimen gathering, depicting her relationship with American society as a symbiotic parasitic necessity. Her work is primarily a representation of both internal and external manifestations of monsters, tragedies and other scars of life. A Chicano who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, amongst crop dusters, environmental racism and other pollutants, her illustrations are littered with parasites, tumors and colorful death. The follow is our interview about her life and work.
The Newarker: Where are you from?
Vázquez: As an ambiguous BIPOC, I get asked that question a lot. “No, but really, where are you from?” Turtle Island. You know it as USA. More specifically, I was born in my ancestral land—Texas. It was during the onion season. My mom was seven months pregnant and had to take time off from field work to get ready for my arrival. I didn’t stick around long though, but would periodically come back in between seasons. We traveled a lot as a migrant field worker family. One of my earliest memories was getting transported from tree to tree in a yellow grapefruit sack my older brother was wearing. He didn’t want me burning my feet in the hot Florida sand. Back then, there was more ability to have your offspring present when you worked in the fields. It wasn’t until I was around eight that I wasn’t allowed to be with my family anymore and went full latch-key kid. We eventually settled in the San Joaquin Valley, California. That’s where I grew up until I moved to New Jersey eighteen years ago. For almost ten of those years, I lived in downtown Newark until I was priced out by gentrification. By some standards that makes me no longer a “Newark artist.” As an indigenous person, no one has the right to tell me where I belong in my ancestral land. Decolonization is a process; we do what we can.
The East Coast was the only way to cross off the list with no plan B. It was either you pass or you pass, no room for failure. It worked out pretty well considering I graduated with a BFA from the School of Visual Arts and an MFA from Montclair State University. During these past years I have become involved in my adopted city of Newark. You may have remembered me from the front desk at Index Art Center volunteering during shows.
The Newarker: How would you describe your work/artistic vision?
Vázquez: Eclectic for sure. I’m a multimedia artist. A lot of my work is mixed media with a strong focus on painting because I love doing it all. If a piece includes sculpture, photography, drawing, painting, etc. I’m all in! My work for the most part is cynical, jaded, mixed with dark humor, and revolves around death in the most colorful way possible. It comes from the understanding that death is our constant companion and you must experience life to the fullest because there is no part two. My work has a lot of Catholic survivor influence. It also speaks on #decolonize themes. It is a tough struggle when your tribe is lost, your language and customs are completely gone—replaced by colonization. Often times Native Americans are either completely forgotten, fetishized, related to mysticism, and many more types of othering. It makes me so happy when I see cousins to the North and South that have their traditions in place and their languages intact. It makes me especially happy when I find out that words I grew up saying have indigenous roots. Part of that decolonization is rejecting certain descriptive labels. I’ve also have stopped participating in shows from galleries and curators who only remember my name in the months prior to September 15 to October 15 just because my name is Vazquez. “Are you Spanish?!” Not by choice. My work is most definitely me.
The Newarker: How has living in Newark inspired you creatively?
Vázquez: Where do I begin? The first time I came to Newark for an art show was the Red Saw Gallery. I remember going up the stairs. I didn’t speak to anyone but the artist who invited me. This was before I had moved to the Brownstone on Central Ave that was right around the corner. I probably was in the room with a lot of my fellow artists that day that I didn’t end up meeting until a year or so after I moved into the neighborhood. Newark itself and its collective history have a way about calling you to a place of hearth, but it’s people are what definitely make it home. I have made many memories here and I most definitely plan to make so many more.
The Newarker: Any idea of what your next projects might be?
Vázquez: Yes! In fact it’s something I am very excited about. I teamed up with a fellow Newark artist Ashley Brody to set up a body positivity photo shoot, which was graciously hosted by Rolando Manna at QXT’S nightclub. This project is to show women how beautiful they are in their own skin, that we not need to conform to conventional standards of beauty to identify as such. In this round, our guest photographer was Dave Strange. For this session, the show BODY+ will be presented at QXT’s sometime in October. In the next round—yes, definitely there will be more!—we will have men and those who identify to show off all handsomeness! There are some personal projects in the mix as well, but definitely this one is in the near future.
The Newarker: Where are some of your favorite places in Newark to hang out and why?
Vázquez: Well, definite shout out to the “Home away from home”: QXT’s! Not only is it one of the safest spaces I’ve been in here in Newark, it has one of the kindest head of household. Rolando Manna is definitely a person who supports the arts and community and whenever I can, I support his business. Also, who isn’t happy that Barcade is open again? Charlie Shelton has put together an awesome menu including vegan options that are pretty killer. These amongst other late night spots like McGovern’s are the haunts after I leave gallery openings at Gallery Aferro, Index Arts Center, and Project for Empty Space and events at the Newark Museum of Art. I also enjoy a visit to Fern & Fossil because plants! In truth, my community has changed A LOT, and I miss living in my neighborhood. I’m 15 minute drive, so it’s not too terrible, but I’d love to come back one day.
You can follow Vasquez and her work here:
Featured image by Vasquez