San Francisco Artist Victor Cartagena Looks at Migrant Farm Workers in New Exhibition at San Jose Museum of Art

Release date 
Monday, March 13, 2017

Victor Cartagena
Burrocracia, 2016
Paper, charcoal, string, and motor
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist

Beta Space: Victor Cartagena

March 17 – September 4, 2017

SAN JOSE, California (March 10, 2017)— In the latest installment of the San Jose Museum of Art’s exhibition series “Beta Space,” Victor Cartagena examines the plight of migrant workers, particularly those who harvested sugar beets and artichokes in the Bay Area. Cartagena, who was born in El Salvador and now lives and works in San Francisco, has created four new installations inspired by the stories he collected from migrant farm workers with the United Farm Workers Foundation in Salinas, California. Beta Space: Victor Cartagena will be on view March 17 – September 4, 2017.

“As consumers, we are often oblivious to the people who perform the hard, physical work that brings food to our tables,” said Marja van der Loo, curatorial associate at SJMA and curator of the exhibition. “In his work for Beta Space, Victor Cartagena gives faces to those who are typically anonymous and shines a spotlight on their lives and stories.”

In collecting stories from UFWF members, Cartagena was particularly interested in the stories of workers who harvested sugar beets. In order to sustain themselves throughout the day’s hard labor, many workers had to suck on the crop itself. Cartagena represents this story in his installation Sugar Face, a series of twelve faces molded from sugar. The mold for Sugar Face (2016) was made from the face of Maurilio Maravilla, a 101-year-old UFW member who once worked side-by-side with activist Cesar Chavez, found of the UFW. The sugar faces will eventually melt and slowly disappear over the course of the exhibition.

Burrocracia (2016) is Cartagena’s response to the bureaucracy that creates paperwork and financial obstacles for many migrant farm workers. The works is an 80-x-11-foot “mural” composed of dozens of life-size paper cutouts of hybrid human/donkey figures. The title is a play on burro, Spanish for donkey or ass, and bureaucracy. The figures interact in a chaotic scene of battle and lewd acts.

Also on view will be La Senta Cena (The Last Supper) (2016), a dinner table setting about the lingering effects of sulfur used for pest control on the workers who harvest artichokes, and Labor Tea (2016), a hanging sculpture of thousands of used tea bags in which Cartagena inserts photographs from his collection of found passport photos.


The exhibition will open with a public celebration on Thursday, March 16, from 7 – 10 PM. Part of the Museum’s ArtRage series, the evening will include live music by Rich Ajlouny, Cortnee Langlie, and Foga Na Roupa as well as a DIY Art activity for adults. ArtRage is open to the public. Tickets are $5 and are available online at

On Thursday, May 18, 2017, at 7 PM, Cartagena will speak about his work in conversation with Marja van der Loo, curatorial associate. Tickets to Creative Minds: Victor Cartagena, are $12 ($6 for members) and are available online at


Victor Cartagena was born in 1965 in San Salvador, El Salvador, and currently lives and works in San Francisco. In 1985 Cartagena fled El Salvador’s civil war and moved to California. As a member of Tamoanchán (a collective of Latin American printmakers) Cartagena received the CAC Fellowship at Berkeley’s KALA Art Institute, sponsored by the California Arts Council. Cartagena has received numerous grants, including Visions from the New California grant, funded by The James Irvine Foundation, 2004; the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Cultural Equity Grant, 2005; the Creative Capital Award, 2009; and the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation Grant, 2011. In the Bay Area, Cartagena has exhibited at the University Art Museum at University of California, Berkeley, Galería de la Raza, Ampersand International Arts, Southern Exposure, the Mission Cultural Center, the Oakland Museum of California, African American Museum and Library, and MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana). In 2006, Cartagena collaborated with Campo Santo and Octavio Solis at Intersection for the Arts. Internationally, his work has been exhibited in Mexico, Japan, El Salvador, Belarus, Ecuador, and Greece. Cartagena’s work is included in the collections of the Honolulu Museum of Art; Mexican Museum, San Francisco; Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Greece; Oxbow School of Art, California; and the San Jose Museum of Art.


“Beta Space” is 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. By supporting the production of new work, “Beta Space” encourages artists to experiment and venture into unfamiliar areas. Previous Beta Space artists include Kevin Appel and Ruben Ochoa, Anna Sew Hoy, Ranu Mukherjee, Tabaimo, and Diana Thater.


The San Jose Museum of Art celebrates new ideas, stimulates creativity, and inspires connection with every visit. Welcoming and thought-provoking, the Museum rejects stuffiness and delights visitors with its surprising and playful perspective on the art and artists of our time. SJMA is located at 110 South Market Street in downtown San Jose, California. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 AM to 5 PM and until 8 PM or later on the third Thursday of each month. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for students, and $5 for youth ages 7 – 18. Members and children ages 6 and under are admitted free. For more information, call 408-271-6840 or visit

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