Beatriz Vasquez is an Indianapolis-based artist from Brownsville, Texas. She is a graduate of Herron School of Art and Design, and her show is up at Gallery 924 through March 24. You can follow her on Instagram or on Facebook. PATTERN intern, Bryn Foreman, had the opportunity to chat with Vasquez about her work.
Beatriz Vasquez is quite at home in an art gallery. Dressed in silver and bright blue, she has no problem looking for the light switch board in Gallery 924 to try and find the perfect lighting to document her work. “Right here,” she gestures to a monumental sheet of papel picado, “the way we featured these, where you can see through them is just stunning; not just to be able to see one, but the other one as well, and where the medium itself becomes something else. It’s not just the paper, it’s the shadow, and that has a lot of significance, too.”
Papel picado is typically imagined as a rather small-scale, Mexican folk art, made by punching holes into tissue paper to create decorative patterns. The art that Beatriz Vasquez creates more closely resembles the massive, stained glass windows in Gothic cathedrals than small decorations. Another difference is that while traditional papel picado typically depicts birds, flowers, or skeletons, Vasquez’s work is more intentionally political. “I always go with the theme of politics,” she explains. “You know, what’s happening with me, and also with the Latino Community.” Vasquez continues, describing her hopes for Indianapolis, “I would love for Indianapolis to promote me more, and to see the important work that I’m trying to bring awareness to within the Latino Community. I would love for the art community to reach out to the Latino Community itself. I want them to be more inclusive, with or without citizenship. Talent does not have borders. Talent does not have documents. Talent does not come with any kind of special feature other than it comes from your heart. That’s what I believe.”
The name of the show, “Feminine Bloodlines, Mexican Womanhood,” is innately connected to the content of the work. Vasquez leads me across the room to a portrait of a haloed woman wearing a bandoleer, telling me that it is an image of her great aunt, Carlota. “Carlota, she was one of my badass, chingona tias, aunts. She was an adelita in the time of the Revolutionary War in Mexico, in 1917. She was taken basically from her family by the military, they took all these young women and forced them to be their – whatever they needed. They forced them to cook, to bear children, it was pretty much slavery, you know, servitude. She lived to be 92 years old, just as badass as always. I always look up to my lineage of female badasses. I feel that we, as Mexican women, have always been seen as, las mujeres se quedan en la cocina, the women stay in the kitchen. I don’t like that. I never have. So I said, you know what? It’s time for us to raise our expectations, raise our voices, and declare our liberty and our independence.”
Taking me on a tour around the room, Beatriz Vasquez shows me a monumental self-portrait, depicting herself haloed, and flanked by two pitbulls. I ask if the image is about the incident in November of 2019, where she was attacked by a pitbull belonging to a now-former friend. She explains that while she is still healing from her physical wounds, the artwork served as a sort of therapy for her. “Of course, I did not want the dog to be killed, and the dog was not killed. There was no justice. I forgave the dog, and that’s another reason why I had to create this. I said, I need to move on. Even if I’m still healing, I need to move on. I had a vision of it on my birthday, January 29th. I woke up and I had this vision of me with these two pitbulls, exactly like this. Something very spiritual and very powerful.” It becomes clear to me that the visual similarities between her work and cathedral windows is not purely coincidental. “There was no way that I could not present this [vision] in this healing, woman show. And of course, as you can see, there’s so many different pieces that depict woman power,” she gestures around the room, which is indeed full of powerful women. Even on paper, they have an aura of authority and resilience. “Especially the Latina woman, where we come from, where we are – all of the qualities that my ancestors have passed onto me. I’m starting to actually understand them, understand their pain, their suffering, everything that they had to go through to give that to me, to pass that on to me, to share with me, and I want to focus on that in this show.”
I mention the religious style and imagery that I’ve noticed in her work. “This is me, creating my own religion,” Vasquez replies. Rejecting the oppressive and arbitrary rules inflicted on women by Catholicism led her to the conclusion that, “I had to reclaim my own beliefs and my spirituality.” She guides me to another monumental woman, encircled by images of music notes, bees, conception. “I tried to make her appear like mother nature itself, that is part of us, as we are part of her,” Vasquez explains in a reverent tone, staring up at the face of this saintly woman as if she were talking about an old friend.
It isn’t just religion that Vasquez has reclaimed for herself, but the art of papel picado, too. “In the time when I began creating, I was going through a lot of turbulent emotions and times with my own family, and I saw it as both meditative and as a metaphor – I was cutting away, physically cutting with a knife, the thing that was negative and I was leaving the positive. Basically that’s what I was doing in my life too – getting rid of all the negativity and keeping the positivity.” By the end of our conversation, I felt as though I’d had a religious epiphany; I felt lighter, and braver, too. Beatriz Vasques births artworks that make the viewer feel simultaneously uplifted, and challenged by what they find in the ornately carved paper in Gallery 924.