If you go down to Monument Circle sometime before October, you may notice a pop up store. It’s not a food truck (although you will be able to buy fish food from it at some point over the coming years). Big Car’s mobile museum is making its debut downtown with the Spark events around the circle; basically a series of temporary placemaking programs that let commuters interact with a public space through the arts, and you know, green chairs. That moving exhibition is filled with the work of Beatriz Vasquez and her tribute to Frida Kahlo.
Vasquez has spent the last six years leaving her mark on the art world through papel picado, literally perforated paper. Well, her work is what she commonly calls papel picado with a modern twist, and is a personal representation.
“I am a Mexican American first generation college graduate,” says Vasquez, sitting on one of the many bright green picnic tables southwest of Lady Indy. “That makes me modern. I am also very indigenous.”
Vasquez explains how after graduating from Herron with a degree in children’s book illustration she felt overshadowed by so many local artists that were shining in their own niche. When she was walking through a Mexican market, while visiting family, she looked up to see the thin sheets of carved tissue paper fluttering. It was the traditional artwork of papel picado. She realized that her medium “had been a part of her the entire time.”
Her aunt introduced her to several papel picado artists. She learned how they would take several hundred sheets of tissue paper and place a marked piece of cardboard acting like a book cover over the top to hold their place while they used a hammer to chisel in their designs. The artwork is typically used in religious festivals then thrown out after the celebration is done.
“My goal is to bring awareness to the people who create it, to the culture itself,” says Vasquez. “It’s a dying art.
For the next six years she practiced daily. She compares her work as a metaphor for life.
“Life is full of mistakes, my god. My paper is not perfect. If I make a mistake I will fix it, or I will improvise around it.”
Each piece of her work (that is getting larger and more intricate) uses plenty of improvisation. She never pre sketches her work. She simply rolls out the sheets and starts to carve.
After her work appeared in La Casa Azul, Gregory Hancock’s soon to tour play, her artwork took on momentum. Vasquez and Jim Walker of Big Car met during a Hoosier Salon show roughly two years ago. She was drawn to his community artwork and the two became friends. Once Hancock’s play made its debut, Walker reached out wanting to do something representative of Frida Kahlo. He showed her the mobile art space and let her run with it. The result is a series of papel picado pieces that use negative space to take on a similar geometric depth that Kahlo's have in the shading.
Today she uses her work as a homage to her family and her father who died around the same time she began her paper cutting work.
“For me it is so important to present myself as a Mexican,” says Vasquez. She wants the Latino community in Indy to be proud of where they come from more than anything.
“We can be beautiful together,” she says with a smile.