Vick Quezada (they/them) is an Indigenous-Latinx artist, they queer the archaeological through hybrid forms and aesthetics. Inspired by the guiding principles of Aztec Philosophy, Quezada integrates the theory of interconnected matter and how it’s embedded in the cosmos, planet earth, ecology, and all lifeforms. These elements of matter cannot be governed by sovereign powers as they are inherently queer and infinte. Quezada activates these themes and histories through their work, and this is conveyed by way of digital photography, video, performance and sculpture.
In your website you present yourself as an Indigenous-Latinx artist. “They queer the archeological through hybrid forms”, inspired by the guiding principles of Aztec Philosophy. Tell me a bit about yourself and why do you think this layered hybridity is so central in your identity as an artist?
My work is autobiographical. The works and themes of hybridity that arise in my work are through social, racial and gendered context. Let me explain. I was raised in El Paso, Texas, a border city next to Juarez, Mexico. I am both of Indigenous and Spanish settler descent. My mother’s childhood home and farmland lay adjacent to Juarez. It is here where the Border Highway and a massive steel fence with accented barbed wire separates two nations. From the back door of my mother’s childhood home, you could observe the ghost trails of dust as they hovered along the Rio Grande dike. These dust specters were all but a mystery. They resulted from the U.S. Customs officers racing along the dike in their mint green Ford Bronco surveilling the perimeter. In Spanish, my grandmother always said that the physical borders crossed us, we didn’t cross them. This was true for her because once those steel barriers were implanted (around 1960s) they severed a family bond that expanded into Mexico. Through historical research you can see how these divisions, these borders, and binaries are in fact a modern colonial concept. I was raised in a conservative family where Christian legends and myths were recited daily; they were our bread. My gender never correlated to the binaries and as a youth I was skeptical of them.
I center my research on Pre-Columbian Aztec spirituality. Aztecs had no concept of sin and they worshipped two spirit gods. I use queer history to reference the past, but also to ground the present. These complex themes continue to manifest in the hybrid forms that I make.
In your mixed media cart installations, you assemble a wide range of found objects. Let’s focus on a couple of these pieces – What made you choose these materials and objects, your overall idea for the series, and your process?
Drawing on a familial lineage of design, my work is inspired by the Rascuache Chicanx art, which repurposes and stylizes found objects. In my work you can observe natural materials like soil, cactus, corn, that are integrated with man-made objects like shopping carts, barbed wire, and chain-link fence. Through the pairings of these elements, my intent is to form a nuanced dialogue about Indigenous philosophies that lay in diametric opposition to a settler colonial logic of patriarchy and capitalism.
In 2017, I started a project where I built a fleet of shopping cart installations, Shopping Cart No.1, 2, 3. Shopping Cart No.1 was created with a vision to grow a garden of corn, Shopping Cart No. 2 was a portable kitchen where one might make tamales, and Shopping Cart No. 3 was a small oven to cook and simultaneously make pottery. I built the Shopping Cart series with objects that were found, recycled, and sourced. The takeaway from this series is that these art objects are honoring the lasting legacy of Aztec Indigenous people and strategies for survival in a hostile and violent post-apocalyptic settler world.
Ecological Aesthetics of interconnectivity (2020) reads to me as an organic, biomorphic form -wood ear mushrooms and headphones intertwined. You said in your interview by Alexis Salas in Bomb that you spotted the wood ear mushrooms on your hike, thinking “this is a selfie of me lying on a bed of moss.” Collecting, editing, and personalizing objects and organic matter seem to become a cohesive whole – altogether central in your art-making process and perhaps inseparable from your life. What are your thoughts on that?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in objects or creatures that had anthropomorphic qualities. My love of the anthropomorphic can be seen in, Ecological Aesthetics of Interconnectivity. Last year on a hike I noticed a fleshy object that looked like ears, apparently it’s called a wood ear mushroom. I impulsively photographed the mushrooms and staged them wearing headphones. Another instance, one cold winter night In Massachusetts I was walking in my neighborhood and the beams of a passing car illuminated my neighbor’s house. Pasted to the front of their door was a set of 6 inch googly eyes. I couldn’t help but notice that they were staring at me. To be honest, their house looked ‘kind’a all sad girl’– maybe I was projecting?
The placement of the eyes personified the house. It made this inanimate object become animated. This ironic gesture of placing eyes on a home made me very aware that this nonhuman entity was in fact worth consideration, from the politics of the natural materials it was constructed, to the ecosystem of mice, ants, fungi, and bacteria the house was in relation to, as well as the tenants. I suppose these anthropomorphic experiences and desires made me more aware of my own beliefs. I align myself with the philosophy of kincentric ecology, or Indigenous knowledge, where all living beings and non-living beings are interconnected. We all have inherent worth and should be considered, and cared for, especially those most vulnerable.
There is a strong performative element in your work. Let’s take a closer look at one project where this performative element is pronounced?
My works are an embodied invitation to re-interpret Western history and society’s social constructs. For instance, in my work Seed Unseed I use performance to interrogate the legacy of Spanish colonial ideologies that are embedded into the cultural fabric of the Southwestern U.S. borderlands. Seed Unseed was an act of reclaiming Indigenous queer histories and reconciling with a violent past/present of colonization. These violent settler past’s manifest/ed through innumerable ways, one being institutionally. Historically, Catholic missions were/are sites of discipline and assimilation of Indigenous people.
Throughout the city of El Paso, Texas (1659) and its surrounding area lays a mission route that connects three historic Catholic churches: Ysleta Del Sur Mission (1682), San Elizario Mission (1877), and the Socorro Mission (1682). On November 28-29, 2019 I returned to my hometown of El Paso to walk the 9-mile pilgrimage. This mission trail lies shy of tracing the United States-Mexico border. I wore a handmade costume made of Dickies, adorned with corn leaves, chain-link fence, while operating a manual corn seeder named Ozomatli. I walked from mission to mission, sprinkling the ground with corn seed. Indigenous Aztecs believed maize/corn was a dual spirit god, that being both woman and man. Science confirms that corn is in fact a monoecious plant, having both male and female attributes on the body. As an Indigenous-Latinx two spirit person I used my body as a queer vessel of history. I use corn as a metaphor to pre-Colombian history in concert with the potentiality for queer futures.
Let’s pick a few photos from your photographs – what is the story behind them?
In my recent show, Stimulus 3, I documented the process of the work and the photos I captured demonstrate the process of 500 Years a Plague. The images document the moment the concept was born, then transferred to paper, digitized, and lastly the final physical sculpture.
The theme in the work coincided with the fact that at this current moment we are living through a pandemic. Similarly, 500 years ago Indigenous people were dealing with a smallpox outbreak that wiped out their entire civilization. In the 16th and 17th century when European colonizers set foot on this continent, and incited biological warfare on the Indigenous people of the Americas resulting in mass death. Indigenous people and Native Americans are continuing to be affected by the results of settler colonialism.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for Native Americans, Native Americans have the highest prevalence of drinking in the U.S. AI/AN youth are arrested at a rate of three times the national average. Violence against Native American women has reached unprecedented levels. These are startling statistics and these are just a few of them. In my work, 500 Years a Plague, I consider Indigenous intergenerational trauma and the way it continues to manifest.
Drawing by Vick Quezada, 500 Years a Plague, 2021 sculpture. Courtesy of the artist
You say that Photo Work II “collected through Los Angeles document the minutia and the bredth of non-binary and transgender daily life.” Can you tell me more about this series overall as well as shed some light on a few photos?
From 2012 to 2015, I was living in Los Angeles. I was working at an at-risk-youth shelter, and also living with an elderly woman who sold tamales and rented out affordable rooms to subsidize her income. My extended community was queer, transgender, and non-binary people of color.
These experiences made me realize that the stories of most vulnerable communities were mostly left untold. I took a photo class at LACC and I began photographing my friends, and spaces within the margins. In 2015, they accepted me into an interdisciplinary studio art MFA graduate program. This experience challenged me to use nonrepresentational forms while continuing to convey marginalized narratives. So now, instead of relying on photography, I mostly work with video, sculpture and performance. In retrospect you could say that my overlaying desire is to fill the void of a missing archive, whether by photography, video, and/or sculpture.
It seems to me that your overall body of work underscores both storytelling and documenting. How do you see the relationship between the two in your thought process?
I like to think of my work as an act of reconciliation, but also I’m trying to create agency. There’s an urgency to tell stories of queer, Black, Indigenous people’s histories as we are working against the destructive machine. I find the work of queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman’s theory of erotohistoriography illuminating. As we stare at the history of colonialism, we can contend with these very complex senses of intergenerational trauma and loss. Contrary to, there is also a rich history of trans, queer and two-spirit people who experience immense moments of joy and pleasure, “history is not only what hurts but what arouses, kindles, whets, or itches”.
What is happening in your studio these days?
The studio I occupy is underground, maybe it’s an old converted bunker, so it’s definitely a mood. My studio is a block of concrete with a fuchsia glow. The grow lamps are for my cactus. In my studio I’m working on a giant dirt painting, which is being neglected. To be fair, I’ve been busier lately than pre-pandemic and of course I’m still hashing out the conceptual elements and the material ones. In the current state, the painting has an even amount of a red sand base to blue sky. Just on the horizon of the red sand dunes is a child walking in proximity to a shimmering but dilapidated aluminum Airstream RV.
The painting is a photographic depiction of a childhood, maybe mice foregrounded by this otherworldly place, the red sand dunes where I grew up. Through this painting I’m exploring the passing of geological epochs, the mass extinctions of life from the Precambrian era to the current state of the Anthropocene. I’m also really excited about this piece because I’ve started working with new mediums, both dirt and acrylics.
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: email@example.com