JOSSELYNE MORALES reflects on the work of Victor Cartagena

“Burrocracia,” Victor Cartagena

by Josselyne Morales

Currently on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art History (SC MAH) the exhibit “We Feed You: Works by Victor Cartagena” is available to visit until July 22, 2018. I would highly recommend going to see this exhibit if you have interests in food production injustices, sculptural installations, migrant worker issues, or social art in general. This show has it all!

“We Feed You” made me think about the ongoing labor struggles that still plague the US and the migrant’s stories within. Cartagena’s ideas on the systemic injustice of food production translated well with the materials used and the narratives contextualizing his art works. I was especially drawn to the decomposing “Cara de azúcar (Sugar Face)” for their nature with time but, the “Burrocracia” was my favorite art piece because it made me want to stay and absorb all it had to offer spanning the walls it covered. I thought “Labor Tea” was clever in its conceptual execution and pretty funny (pun-funny) from its title, of which I am a fan! 

The placement of “La Santa Cena (The Last Supper)” inside the exhibit made me feel like it demanded attention.  The instillation used a long table set with silverware and shiny China plates with blurred portraits burned into their centers,  staring out at us the plate bound images contrasted with the mundane cement floored setting. The placement worked for me because the artwork emphasizes important and urgent issues plaguing migrant workers in our agricultural sectors including: unsafe working conditions, disappeared migrants and unhelpful bureaucratic systems. As a consumer of the food production industry in the States I realize I am not fully educated on the issues within that industry. 

I feel it is important we have artists reminding us of the workers that oft-times don’t get our recognition, although they provide a nourishing necessity to us every single day. 

May we open our eyes and hearts so we do not forget those working hard and in most cases within terrible conditions to feed our surrounding communities and our nation. These are the faces and stories behind the food we eat. We must not overlook them but fight alongside them for their wellbeing and justice. Stay engaged!

I got in contact with Victor to ask him a few questions about his art and the exhibit. Read his response below:

JM: A lot of your artwork deals with identity and in your current exhibit you talk about the identity of migrants working in food production. Do you have any advice for young artists tackling their own issues of identity?

VC: I would tell them to search and recognize what is key in the representation of the times we are living, to consider the political, cultural and social class where we are.The everyday life that we face when we are young are putting in images the abstract ideas that associate us: The idealists, fighters, revolutionaries.

Each generation has to live different events and we go hand in hand with the course of history, so what a young person has to live in the USA is different to other youth around the world. So, when  considering one’s identity through artistic expression it is essential to recognize that each one of us is different from the others, based on beliefs, values, norms, attitudes yet we still inhabit the same world, time and space and this contributes to our cultural development.

JM: Your show currently at the Santa Cruz MAH is very evocative while touching on deep issues within the labor workforce here in the U.S. Were there any artists that inspired your creative process?

VC: I believe that I consciously and unconsciously am influenced by many artists in history, in terms of aesthetics. I think that in this project you can see a little influence of many, I would say. For instance,  in the mural Burrocracia you can clearly see that Guernica of Picasso was an inspiration. It’s like saying, not only one atrocity is unique; the world we live in has many “Guernicas,” so to speak. You can also see traces of Francisco Goya and his engravings.

In what’s going on the sculptures made of sugar, I do not have a unique artist to identify as an influence. There are so many artists who are my guides, mentors and inspiration. Sugar, iron, metal in general are materials with so much information. In fact, sugar was the inspiration of the Mexican culture, the “calacas” (skulls/skeletons) from Dia de los Muertos was very fundamental in my decision to make these faces of sugar.

JM: Is there anything you want the viewer to take away and reflect upon after viewing this exhibit?

VC: I would like people to be able to step into the shoes of the disadvantaged, and to thank immigrants for their contribution to this society, to understand that we do the most difficult work for the benefit of many and with little reward.  I also want them, when they thank Jesus, to thank JOSE too.

SC MAH Website:

https://santacruzmah.org/

More info about the SCMAH exhibition:

https://santacruzmah.org/2018/we-feed-you-works-by-victor-cartagena-april-4th-july-22nd-2018/

Good Times article on “We Feed You” exhibit:

http://goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-arts-entertainment/art/victor-cartagena-exhibit-mah/

KQED post on Cartagena:

https://ww2.kqed.org/spark/victor-cartagena/

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