Saturday in the Museum with Narsiso

Image: Narsiso Martinez, The Weed Sprayer (2020). Ink, gouache and charcoal on found produce box. Charlie James Gallery.

On Saturday, we post about art that intersects with food. In our search for content, there are serendipitous moments where something comes up in the searches that is unexpected. This year we have been focused on the sources of food and looking for images of the crops of spring we came across an article.

The article is by Sarah Sax writing in the High Country News, a magazine that covers the Western United States. She profiled art that takes as its subject the lives of farmworkers. The works were collected by a local non-profit, Community-to-Community Development, in Bellingham, Washington. The organization’s leader, Rosalinda Guillén, is the daughter of one of the artists profiled, Jesús Guillén.

Sax writes that the works, “portray farmworkers in a myriad of ways: at times playful, serene, beautiful and almost transcendental. [Rosalinda Guillén] calls this ‘artivism’ — a way of resisting a system that prefers to see farmworkers as disposable and invisible. In making the varied and distinctive experiences of Latino and Latina farmworkers in Washington the subject of the art, the works celebrate both farm labor and the people who do it.”

There was one piece in the article that was arresting as you scroll down the page. It is of a worker in a protective suit who sprays the crops with chemicals to kill off the weeds. It is by a former farmworker named Narsiso Martinez. He said of his work:

It all started when I was working in the field. I started to question the lifestyles of the farmworkers versus the lifestyle of the landowners or the ranchers. I started seeing and learning more about how, in the past, farmworkers were abused — how in the beginning the United States used Native Americans in the missions and then used slaves. In the U.S., agribusiness has always relied on disadvantaged communities, so they can make the most money out of it, and so they can grow.

“I’ve been collecting vintage labels from produce, and there’s always this beautiful scenery, with children or women or men. And there is no trace of how hard it is to produce the food and who the people are who are behind this produce. Even now, a lot, if not all, of the boxes that I’ve been collecting are pretty boxes — but there’s no trace of farmworkers.”

One of his pieces is included in the annual Outwin exhibit of winning submissions for recognition of “American Portraiture Today” at the National Portrait Gallery. KCET in Los Angeles did a profile of Martinez and notes that up to 20,000 farmworkers suffer from pesticide poisoning every year.


If you find yourself near the Smithsonian museums on the Mall and looking for a place to eat, keep in mind the primary purpose of this site is a dining guide for Washington, D.C. We have 300+ recommended restaurants in the guide, that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc.) in either LIST or MAP format.  Though operating status is changing day-to-day, so be sure to double-check.

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