Frank Blazquez

Frank Blazquez is a visual artist and essayist creating portraiture, documentary film, and mixed-media that merges elements of personal narrative and witness to bring context to the complex realities of the Latinx community in North America’s Southwest.

Blazquez’s poignant work comes from a desire to build a histography of what led to his opiate addiction and rehabilitation by closely examining and upending tropes related to Latinx culture along the border. His portraits and film feature vulnerable focally-centered and moderately posed images of people from his community in rural New Mexico, many of whom are decorated in intricate “prison tattoos, Southwestern symbolism and iconography.” Emphasizing natural light and balanced contrast, Blazquez invokes empathy and intimacy in the viewer by humanizing his subjects and steering away from the gritty textures and overwhelming shadows that typically characterize contemporary portraits of Latinx people from this region. His essays, several featured in The Guardian, take a decolonized and unobstructed look at the circumstances that can lead to opiate abuse and mass incarceration.

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery is currently exhibiting Blazquez’s portraiture and his artwork was recently displayed in State of the Art 2020: an exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of State of the Art 2020: an exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of in Vice, Huffpost, Remezcla, Hyperallergic, and Artsy.

Several fellows were asked a series of questions about their work to help us understand the impact the Right of Return-USA Fellowship has had on them and their careers. Their answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Right of Return Project

Untitled Short Documentary Series

In 2020, Blazquez became a Right of Return Fellow and created a short-documentary series focusing on the untold stories of formerly incarcerated people in the gangs and trap scenes of New Mexico and South Texas. These truth-telling table talks and home interviews are punctuated by cinematic clips of their daily lives, humanizing the people behind the carceral statistics of the region.

On barriers in the arts industry and the impact of the Right of Return Fellowship:

“Yeah, I mean, his has been one of the biggest grants that I’ve received. But not only that, just like the opportunity–this is stuff that I hide. Like my issues with drug addiction, my past record, being arrested, going to jail, and stuff like that. That’s stuff that I try to hide. But then I was like wait–it didn’t have to be like that. This is cool that there’s an organization that’s like “Incarceration is something that people deal with–what can we do, through the medium of art, to amplify that rather than be scared of it?” That’s what it is. It’s paranoia. I was hiding and embarrassed by what happened but here comes Soze and Right of Return and it’s like “No, this is a place where we can embrace the impact of your experience rather than have you adapt to some outdated idea of who an artist is.”