Art Division students braved the cold and rain on Sunday, Jan. 8 on a field trip to the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach to view the exhibit “Rethinking Essential” and meet the artist, Narciso Martinez. The exhibit, which opened in August 2022, will be on display until it moves later this year to the Institute of Contemporary Art in San Diego. The students carpooled down to the museum where, to their surprise, they were greeted by Art Division student Alexander Vega, who coincidentally works at the information desk at MOLAA.The unexpected meeting set a warm and welcoming mood that lasted for the entire afternoon.
Martinez met the students and Art Division staffers at the entry to his exhibit. He instantly set everyone at ease with his friendliness, telling the students the story of his personal journey. Born in Oaxaca, Martinez emigrated to the United States at the age of 20. Because he had had to work from the time he was very young, he had never received his education. In Washington State, he worked in apple orchards for nine years while he completed high school. He received an AA from LA City College in 2009, then transferred to Cal State Long Beach, graduating in 2012, then completing his MFA at Long Beach in 2018.
Throughout his educational journey, he worked in orchards, on farms or in restaurants so that he could support himself. He told the students that though doing such labor while taking classes was exhausting, he believes passionately in the power of education. “It’s important to have the knowledge and build the skills,” Martinez said. “And a degree can get you a better job. But even if you stay at a farm labor job, your education gives you the confidence you need to demand the pay and conditions you deserve.”
While Martinez spoke, a crowd of museum visitors gathered around the Art Division group, excited to see that the artist was present. Martinez spoke to the entire group about his vision for his work, which focuses on farm laborers and their working conditions. The work is executed on discarded cardboard produce boxes and uses collage, charcoal drawing and sometimes gold leaf to highlight the significance of the people he portrays. His work reflects his own experience as well as that of the workers he portrays and interviews.
For Art Division student Shanine Jaimes-Morelos, the opportunity to talk personally with Martinez was exciting. “I loved interacting with him,” she said. “And to hear his perspective really added richness to the experience of viewing his art.
Art Division student Eli Alejo agreed. “It’s really impactful to have an experience where brown artists are centered. I feel like I almost never see that,” they said.
After talking with the students, Martinez joined the Art Division group for an early dinner at Lola’s, a nearby restaurant. Over chips, horchata and heaping platters of Mexican food, the group shared stories about art, work and learning. For Art Division student CJ Calica, the chance to talk and laugh over the meal was a highlight. “I love this community,” she said after the group sang “Happy Birthday” to student Scarlett Maradiga. “It’s so great to meet like-minded people.”