I consider it a privilege to walk into an exhibit where the artists have created works that are deeply personal. For “The Bracero,” a group exhibit organized by CALACA and on display this month at Willo North, a handful of artists have delved into their family background and Mexican-American heritage to come up with a number of thought-provoking works.
The term “bracero” refers to the millions of Mexican laborers who were admitted into the U.S. in the mid-20th century through a federal program, specifically to work seasonally on farms. Their work was often back-breaking and itinerant — in all, a hard way to support a family.
“Bracero” resonates with Marco Albarran, a local artist and museum exhibit developer. His father worked in California orchards as a bracero, and Albarran has shed light on that heritage by gathering together several of his father’s implements and carefully displaying them with explanatory notes. Well-worn and practically antiques, the tools were close to being disposed of until Marco recognized their worth and emotional heft. His displays include his father’s lemon-sizing ring, a bandanna, a hard hat and a blade for thinning trees. Probably most precious is the black-and-white photo of Marco’s father and two uncles posing during a day off near what was to become Disneyland.The exhibit includes two mixed-media pieces by Marco as well.
Gabriela Muñoz, a local artist and curatorial assistant at the Phoenix Art Museum, researched bracero history and immigration policies to create her mixed media pieces. One of the most striking pieces is “Our Present, Our Future,” for which Muñoz processed migrants’ work shirts into bluish-green paper with flecks of fiber. The paper has been shaped like the state of Arizona and bears a list of facts about Arizona’s Hispanic population and the ignominious SB1070. Another piece, called “Papel Picado Series #3,” challenges stereotypes about Mexican laborers by incorporating the caricature of Slowpoke Rodriguez as a cut-out within a drawing of field workers.
Longtime Arizona artist Zarco Guerrero is represented with a few of his signature masks and a model of the Cesar Chavez monument that Guerrero created as a public art piece in southern Arizona. The model of Chavez, the Arizona-born leader of the farm workers movement in the 20th century, greets visitors as they walk into “The Bracero.”
Rounding out the theme are: “Campesino,” a characteristically vibrantly colored acrylic on canvas by Martin Moreno, who uses long-stem roses to frame the painting; mixed-media works by Jose A. Benavides, whose father was a bracero in Texas and who remembers being pushed to be anything but a bracero; and even more variety provided by works from Mary Ann Rodriguez-Veatch, Emily Costello, Cristina Cardenas, Johnny Lozoya and Marco Turrubiantes.
During May 2014’s Third Friday, I recommend detouring to Willo North at Thomas Road and Seventh Avenue , or call Kristin Shears at 602-448-9041 to view the exhibit during daytime hours.