I try to avoid using the word “explore” when I talk about art, because it feels overused to the point of meaninglessness. Every artist’s work seems to explore something nowadays, even when it doesn’t. In just 20 years, the multimedia artist and curator Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez has engaged in more practices than most creative people do in a lifetime. So, to say that her work has been an ongoing, multi-directional exploration feels entirely appropriate.
Class trauma and the imposed borders humans use to oppress, separate, and disenfranchise one another is the the backdrop of Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez’s personal, self-referential work, which extends beyond creation into an assertive and confident professional practice at odds with current institutional standards. As a visual artist, self-portraiture is her primary mode of making images. That many of her pieces are self portraits at all is not immediately apparent, while others fit pretty cleanly into that category. The obvious self portraits depict points of departure: the artist’s face, body; up close or from far away, in tropical landscapes or mysterious domestic settings. The less obvious pieces are interior self portraits that glean imagery from the subconscious or fantastical places of the artist’s mind. In a world where dehumanization is the very backbone of many economies and cultures, to stress the brain, the recesses of the mind, as being as much a part of the body as any other, is poignant.
The acute sense of place she achieves in her imagery illustrates the ease with which she can place psychological states or dissenting viewpoints onto the recognizable. Mixing commanding photography with tactile interventions or alternative processes renders emotive pictures ripe with social commentary and bodily awareness. Whether becoming tree-like in a barren winter landscape or considering the substances and insinuations of menstruation, Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez creates snippets of dreams of herself in the world, a very political world.
The arbitrary nature of borders, and her relationship to the United States, the abusive and negligent colonizer of her home country, often comes up in her work. In one series, she has entirely blacked out the land on a map of New England, giving it the shape that has been there all along, unadulterated by empire. In another piece, we see her doing dishes as an image of the Boston skyline from across the Charles River is projected above the sink. In another, she sleeps in her presumably Boston-based bed as an image of San Juan at golden hour hovers gently above her. Even in interior settings there is a keen awareness of the outside landscapes and the impressions they leave.
Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez’s work as a curator and academic is done with the same rigor and resistance to the status-quo as her personal artwork. Academic and curatorial work can be a nasty, gatekeepery field that is permeated by misogyny and is dominated by people with expensive Master’s Degrees and PHDs over real-life experience. That’s not to say plenty of people with expensive degrees aren’t very good at what they do, just that plenty of them aren’t and really just take up precious space.
Beginning in Boston, with a BFA in Photography under her belt, Vázquez Rodríguez has worked as a curator for various spaces. Whether running a small, independent gallery, a large corporate one, or being contracted to curate at a new gallery that hopes to be up-and-coming, or even working pro-bono to put a DIY space on the map, she brings the same energy and belief that, no matter the setting, the limits of curation can be pushed, and important statements can be made even in places they aren’t necessarily expected.
A few years ago, she relocated about 50 miles south of Boston, to the beautiful and endlessly interesting city of Providence, Rhode Island. She is currently a critic at the Rhode Island School of Design in the Photography Department and part of the Dirt Palace Public Projects board of directors. They also offer one-on-one mentorships, portfolio reviews and curatorial consultations, which you can book via her website. As a visual artist she continues to exhibit nationally and internationally, with a fall 2022 solo exhibition in the works. She is proof that success in art should be more about passion than laurels, though her career itself as a young artist is an enviable laurel no institution could give and no amount of tuition could pay for. The prospect of her punk passion influencing RISD students is exciting, almost as exciting as wondering what she might make next.
b. Guayama, 1977
Anabel Vázquez Rodriguez is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, educator and organizer. Their artistic production explores the colonial system, otherness, resistance, nostalgia, the galactical and feminist discourse; all derived from her experience as an antillean living in New England. They studied photography at the Liga de Arte de San Juan, with Frieda Medín (1993 -1995) and continued their studies in photography, sculpture, and punk rock, as a Fine Arts Painting major at the Department of Humanities, University of Puerto Rico (1995-1998). Vázquez Rodríguez self-exiled in 1998, and pursued a Photography BFA at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston (2002), where they expanded their practice into filmmaking and installation. They have exhibited, lectured and performed nationally and internationally. In addition to being an artist, they have developed an extensive career as a curator and cultural manager locally and abroad.