AS AN UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT AND FORMER AGRICULTURAL WORKER
By Narsiso Martinez
Through my art, I intend to highlight the difficult reality faced by American farm- workers, a workforce essential to American life consisting of men and women almost wholly of vulnerable and insecure immigration status. I am an immigrant and former farmworker myself. After immigrating to the United States from a small community outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, I worked nine seasons in the fields of Eastern Washington state to pay for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. In my art, I seek to honor farmworkers and reveal the difficult working conditions they face. Their portraits and depictions of scenes from the fields are executed on found produce boxes. My figures intermingle with the designs of the produce brands and leverage their language and often old-fashioned symbolic language to bring the contradictions that inhere to American agribusiness into focus. The found produce boxes activate and amplify what I mean to communicate.
As a consumer, one doesn’t necessarily stop to think about who are the people and the hard work that goes behind the produce we purchase at a grocery store. When I nest images of farm workers amidst the colorful brand names and illustrations of agricultural corporations, I hope to help the viewer to make a connection, or a disconnection rather, and start creating consciousness about the people that farm their food. It is certainly no secret that the majority of farm- workers are undocumented immigrants from Latin American countries. Their immigration status prevents them from having legal recourse much of the time and makes them vulnerable to predatory business practices from agribusiness.
As an undocumented immigrant and former agricultural worker, I experienced the unfairness of the immigration system myself. Basic things such as lack of healthy working conditions, unfair wages, and unpaid overtime are few issues I encountered in the fields. Farm workers lack the courage to speak up against these injustices due to, but not limited to, language barriers and a fear of retaliation and deportation. Because I now have an education, I have the tools and the platform to reflect upon these issues with an audience to create empathy towards those who still cannot speak up for themselves.
Narsiso Martinez is a California-based artist, winner of the Frieze Impact Prize 2023. The prize recognizes an artist who has made a significant impact on contemporary art and society. Presented in partnership with Define American, a non-profit narrative change organization that uses the power of storytelling to humanize conversations about immigrants, the 2023 Impact Prize is a major initiative launched together with Endeavor Impact. Martinez’s work, entitled “Sin Bandana” and exhibited at Frieze Los Angeles 2023, addresses the immigrant experience, specifically that of the immigrant farm workers that power much of the US agricultural business. His work has been exhibited locally and internationally, and is in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, Orange County Museum of Art, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, University of Arizona Museum of Art, Long Beach Museum of Art, Crocker Art Museum, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.