You’re likely familiar with the artwork of Broobs Marquez, aka Ruby to their friends, and @broobs.psd online. Their public-access collage and text-design artwork surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement has been broadly distributed across social media platforms, as totems and rallying objects to uplift silenced voices and create a new space for social change. Their work, altars surrounding individual people killed through police brutality or through discriminatory violence, are flush with rich colors and soft, sacred-feeling images of flowers and flora taken by them in their home of San Francisco.
These images (along with their text-design pieces, showering the internet with emboldened words that we need to see and hear) have been made available by the artist in a public use folder linked to their accounts. Their collages and banners have been uplifted at protests, used as emblems of solidarity by businesses and individuals, and disseminated rapidly through stories as a way to share news that honors and elevates with grace the lives of those killed.
Which is the critical value of their work. In the horror of all that has been coming to the surface, with all the traumatic images of black, NBPOC, trans, queer people subjected to violence and hate crimes, the artwork of Broobs tells us the narrative of individual people.
It can be easy to feel lost or overwhelmed by the sheer number of people lost, and by how constant the threat is to us and our friends. It can be easy to feel outside of the conversation, hopeless, helpless, and paralyzed. But the artwork of Broobs reminds us that each person lost to targeted violence is, before anything else, a person. Someone who was loved and who loved. Someone with beauty and faults, quirks, charms, funny stories, passion, a collection of private memories, dreams.
No one’s life is a token, whether for a villainizing narrative or a galvanizing one meant for social change. The artwork of Broobs reminds us that to fight for change isn’t a fight against a nameless network, or list of anonymous deaths that seems too big to address. What we’re fighting for is right of a person to live: happily, free from fear or threat, free in the pursuit of their own identity and flourishing, of discovery and creativity, and in their elevation of the happiness of others.
What the artwork of Broobs has done (and continues to do) is to offer a glimpse of a narrative that was that person’s own.
Adolescent Content: Hi Broobs, how are you?
Broobs Marquez: I’m good. All things considered. Slowly spiraling into fascism every day. It’s hard not to start freaking out, but one day at a time.
Adolescent: I’m curious about that— not only your quarantine experience, and your ability to make artwork in it—but also the fact that everything is crazy. I feel like, at least for your current artwork, those two things go hand-in-hand.
Broobs: In January I had a little mental check-out. I started having a series of panic attacks. It was really hard for me to even get up and do anything. So honestly the first few weeks of quarantine were a relief because I didn’t have to pretend to be normal. And then slowly I started to get more freaked out because I was beginning to understand that this was a really big deal and we were truly going to be stuck inside for a minute.
Building a routine was really hard. But with everything happening I felt like I had the time to do as much art as I did. I keep burning myself out like a little firecracker, but I guess I’m just trying to do my own part for all this.
Adolescent: Your work occupies a really beautiful space within our political reality. The altar pieces that you built for people lost to police brutality and racist or transphobic and homophobic violence are so beautiful, and I think an amazing homage to the lives of these people. Can you talk about taking this time and space to build these altars for them, and what it means to make that work for you?
Broobs: It’s really hard work, I’ll be honest. It’s all very emotionally charged. It comes from a place of me wanting to understand why these things even happen—trying to process all these deaths, and trying to understand what death even is.
In a lot of ways, it’s to combat what I know the media is going to do in the long run, which is vilify them for existing in this world. Whether it be owning a gun, or having traces of marijuana in their system, or some other kind of drug. It’s what they always do with people who suffer police brutality. They always try to vilify them, and try to—in a lot of ways—make it okay that they were killed, by making them out to be quote-unquote ‘bad people.’
I feel like that’s what my work does as well. It shines light on them, and almost doesn’t make you question that their life was holy, or valuable. It just makes you see them in that light.
Adolescent: It’s a method of storytelling to have these images online, and with such broad exposure. I do think it’s important to see that police brutality happens, and understand what that means—how violent and awful it is. But it’s equally important to see the people who are victims of it as the really beautiful people that they are.
Broobs: Yeah, and that they’re just people. Sometimes they get turned into political figures in a way, and some of it is justified because it is to end police brutality. But at the end of the day you have to remember that they’re somebody’s kid, somebody’s relative, somebody’s friend—and you have to think about their family, and how they have to see those images and those stories as well.
Adolescent: Can you elaborate on your personal relationship to telling these stories?
Broobs: It’s a weird relationship, because I feel like I have to because I know that these stories have to be heard, and I know that the platform that I have is somewhat big enough to be spread across the internet. But at the same time, I have to process it over and over again with everybody messaging me or commenting. Sometimes it just gets so loud, that I don’t even have the space to understand what’s going on. And most of the time I feel guilty because I don’t have the time or energy to do everybody. Because there are a lot of people that are dying—not just from police brutality but from white supremacy altogether.
Adolescent: Do you feel like the artwork helps you cope?
Broobs: In some ways it does and in some ways it doesn’t. It’s this weird cycle that I’m in, of always trying not to forget anybody.
Adolescent: I’m also curious about the medium that you’ve chosen: collage art. Can you go over your background with that, and why you chose this format?
Broobs: It’s a look that I’ve always tried to go after, I just never really knew how to get there. I started to do the collage art in 2013, in school, but I got kind-of in trouble for that because we weren’t supposed to do any heavy Photoshop stuff. I went to school for photography. I had to bury the collage art for a minute, and I would just do it for myself. When I was graduating, the last class that I took was like, ‘just do whatever you want; it’s going to be your portfolio, you’re the one who has to show it to people.’ So I just went for it.
The first project that I did was all drag queens in the city, in that style, and then that’s all I did. That’s how it started, and from there it just evolved.
Adolescent: Talking about the San Francisco drag scene, I noticed you did the artwork for a new series called ‘Reparations.’
Broobs: Yeah, that’s with my close friend Nicki Jizz. This is going to be the second one, the first one we did was for Juneteenth. I’m just supporting her with visuals and with my platform because she deserves it. She’s always the most sick drag queen that I know in San Francisco. I go to a lot of drag shows, or I did [laughs] when we could. Everything’s moved online; it’s been interesting to see that community adapt so quickly to what’s going on.
I’m also currently selling zines of pictures I took of drag queens at a queer bar called the Stud to help raise money for them. They were forced to close down due to Corona, but the community that they cultivated there was so beautiful and intersectional, open to everybody. It was something that I really loved, because any and every gender was welcome. They are online now and looking for a new home.
Adolescent: When you’re researching a person that you’re going to make a collage about, what’s the composition process like?
Broobs: It’s hard because I’m looking for the best image. I’m also looking for the image that’s least used to represent that person. Those are the first few steps that I take, looking for an image that’s not overdone, and still in an okay file size. File size is a big thing, too. I feel like the internet is pushing back on this whole public stance, and trying to go into a privatized, everybody-doesn’t-own-everything space.
All the other elements that I use are photographed by me. It’s an easy flow of things. I take the pictures on my phone, then I cut them out on my iPad. I have a library of like 1200, now.
Adolescent: Attaching the images that you take to one of your works— is it an intuitive decision for you? Or is it more visual cues, or meanings that you attach to certain images?
Broobs: It’s more of an internal feeling of me wanting to find a balance in the image itself with the elements. It’s very instinctual. You do what feels right. Sometimes it takes me up to 3 or 4 hours to do one, because it’s not feeling the way I want it to feel.
Adolescent: Curious about the choice to make all these images public-access. You just mentioned the privatization of the images of people. Can you tell me about the choice to make the collages available to the public?
Broobs: I feel like the work that I do that is more politically-driven has to be accessible to the public, because it’s for the greater good, in a lot of ways. It’s not about me, it’s about getting that message out. And if people are going to print it out and take it to a protest, why not? That’s my reasoning behind it. I don’t necessarily need the credit or the money, if we could all make this a better country to live in, that works for everybody.
Adolescent: What’s the message that you want to get out?
Broobs: Have empathy for one another. Living in America, it’s very me-me-me: that kind of mentality. You should maybe start replacing the ‘me’ with ‘we.’ Start caring for the people around you. That’s my biggest hope, is for people to start caring for others as much as they care about themselves.
Artist Broobs Marquez interviewed by Alex Free
All artwork by @broobs.psd
Photography by @alexfree_hii
Support @broobs.psd Broob’s Patreon here.
Watch Reparations hosted by @nicki_jizz here.
Buy swag to support The Stud here.
Annie Walton Doyle