Daily 49er

Cardboard boxes turned canvases

MFA student Narsiso Martinez employs packing boxes to highlight the disparity between ranchers and laborers.

Narsiso+Martinez+depicts+the+harsh+reality+of+being+a+produce+farmer+in+his+work+currently+featured+in+%22The+Harvest%2C%22+part+of+the+School+of+Art+galleries.+
Narsiso Martinez depicts the harsh reality of being a produce farmer in his work currently featured in

Narsiso Martinez depicts the harsh reality of being a produce farmer in his work currently featured in "The Harvest," part of the School of Art galleries.

Daily 49er File Photo

Daily 49er File Photo

Narsiso Martinez depicts the harsh reality of being a produce farmer in his work currently featured in "The Harvest," part of the School of Art galleries.

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Our minds rarely register the faces of the those responsible for harvesting every apple, bundle of bananas, or basket of berries at the supermarket — but perhaps they should.

MFA drawing and painting student, Narsiso Martinez, gives viewers the chance to associate a face with the fruits of this extensive labor, in his exhibition thesis entitled, “The Harvest.”

“I try to bring a real story from a real person into the piece,” Martinez said. “I started thinking about the lives of the of the farm workers — how they live, where they live and at the same time, the ranch owners. I paid close attention to that. I wanted the differences in lifestyle to be addressed.”

The majority of Martinez’s collection uses cardboard packing boxes that he recycled into canvases for his art. Some have been broken down into flat surfaces, held together with thick masking tape, others form a 4-dimensional tower. Each side of the tower offers a different depiction of a farm worker immersed within the landscape.

Martinez holds a personal connection to the farm workers he creates for his collection, as he has experienced working in the fields.

“When I transferred to [a four year university], things got more expensive, I didn’t know whether or not I should stop going to school,” Martinez said. “At the time, I had a brother and sister living in Washington working as farm workers. They suggested that I come to work in the fields to save money for my education. So that’s what I did.”

Among Martinez’s exhibition is a triptych, or series of 3 panels displayed side-by-side, which reflects a journey similar to the one Martinez has experienced. It portrays a young Hispanic woman with dark features and hair down to her waist, standing in her bedroom gazing upward. The walls of her room are covered with the same brands that are printed on the packing boxes that adorn the gallery. Her right hand clutches the edge of an elaborately carved wooden dresser, upon which, a large sack with a “Sunkist” drawstring lays empty.

Martinez explained that the portrait was inspired by a woman he knew personally; a single mother of two, who worked in the fields to provide for her family.

“I remember as soon as [her children] were old enough to carry a bucket, they were out there in the fields helping their mom,” Martinez said. “[This piece] is a representation of hope. [The woman] is looking away and is leaving behind all the sacrifices. Maybe not her, but the next generation will have a chance at a better future.”

Martinez’s exhibition highlights a number of other elements surrounding the day-to-day lives of agricultural farm laborers. One piece titled, “Ghost Portrait” focuses primarily on the head coverings many field workers wear in hopes to avoid sunburns, excess pesticide and dust inhalation. They utilized a number of items such as handkerchiefs, ski masks and hats, in order to cover as much of their face and head as possible.

Martinez’s largest piece, “Easy to Peel” depicts one field worker nearing the top of his twelve-foot ladder with outstretched arms, desperately trying to access the highest hanging fruits. Martinez explained that this piece represents the internal debate many laborers face: whether or not to break height restrictions and pick the fruit at the tops of trees.

“The ranch owners don’t pay attention to the height of their trees,” Martinez said. “The pickers know that if there is produce at the very top, they are going to take advantage of that to fill their bags. They know they can get in trouble for going to the top of the trees.”

The title, “Easy Peel” presents the juxtaposition of the “easy peel” tangerine slogan, comparing it to the high-risk and intense work agricultural workers face to acquire the fruit.

Martinez’s gallery will be on display from noon to 5 p.m. through Thursday, with extended hours until 7 p.m. Wednesday. Martinez will also have an exhibit at The Long Beach Museum of Art in October.  

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