Why Raelis Vasquez’s Art Is Centring The Afro-Latinx Community
When you walk into any major museum and you look for a painting or portraiture, chances are you’ll find pieces from a narrow, Western-focused point of view – both in terms of the artists creating the work and the subjects depicted in them. A 2019 study found that approximately 85% of the art in museum collections in the US is by white artists. By focusing on the under-represented, Raelis Vasquez, the Afro-Latino artist whose work has been shown at prestigious art institutions including Sakhile&Me, Jeffrey Deitch and the Kunstraum Potsdam, is part of the new guard overhauling the art world. “I want my work to be able to be consumed by the people that I’m painting,” he says.
Vasquez’s vivid paintings and detailed compositions – which drop us right into family celebrations and everyday scenes – reflect the Afro-Latinx experience with a distinct tenderness, exploring questions and themes that have been most present throughout his life: immigration and cultural identity. Growing up in the Dominican Republic and immigrating to New Jersey at a young age, he’s experienced what it means to live in two “completely different worlds”. His paintings take inspiration from images he captures during visits to his birth country, where he photographs both his family and strangers. Later, he sifts through the images in his studio, taking different elements from snapshots before approaching the blank canvas.
While his art pushes against Afro-Latinx communities being overlooked or stereotyped, there are, he says, some key questions that guide his work. “Can I preserve and represent my culture the way that it feels? Can I give the people that I’m representing that certain level of dignity? Can I make them feel as if they’re bigger than they actually are?” he asks. Ultimately, this, along with his commitment to Afro-Latino representation in the art world, is “priority number one”. His hope is that “the work can do something for someone else just like it does for me”.
Eva Recinos is an LA-based arts and culture journalist and creative non-fiction writer