Beta Space: Victor Cartagena
Today, Silicon Valley is a hub of technological innovation. However, as recently as the 1960s, the region’s main industry was farming. Santa Clara and Monterey counties were the fruit suppliers of the United States. Sugar was a particularly important cash crop. Mega corporations such as C&H Sugar, founded in the Bay Area, built their success on the labor of migrant workers. Sugar was a particularly harrowing industry: many farm workers had to suck on the sugar beets they were harvesting to sustain themselves throughout the day.
As consumers, we are often oblivious to the humans who perform the hard, physical work that brings food to our tables. One champion of this labor force, the United Farm Workers (UFW), has fought for the rights of migrant farm labor since 1962. San Jose was home to the UFW’s founder, the well-known activist Cesar Chavez. In the fifth installment of SJMA’s exhibition series “Beta Space,” artist Victor Cartagena will collaborate with the Salinas chapter of the United Farm Workers Foundation to create new work that will spotlight the lives and stories of the people who help feed populations across the United States.
Cartagena takes an interest in the sugar workers of the past and the many plights that migrant workers face today. He will give faces to those who are typically anonymous through portrait masks of UFWF workers’ faces molded out of sugar. He will also analyze the outdated public policy that creates unnecessary paperwork and financial obstacles for migrant farm workers. In a kinetic, 80-foot long mural, Cartagena’s carefully constructed, human-scale paper “dolls” will enact a choreographed dance of bureaucratic chaos. Figures with human bodies and donkey heads will engage in battle and commit lewd acts and redundant, fruitless actions in this assertive manifestation of contemporary bureaucracy.
“Beta Space” serves as an experimental laboratory for artists, collaborative ventures, and catalytic ideas. It connects audiences with artists and with the artistic process; showcases the cross-disciplinary interests of many contemporary artists; and reflects the diversity and innovative spirit of Silicon Valley.