Farmworkers: Photographs, Prints, Paintings

September 8, 2022 to October 17, 2022

The University Art Gallery at Sonoma State University is pleased to present the exhibition Farmworkers: Photographs, Prints, Paintings, which is on view Thursday, September 8 through Sunday, October 16, 2022.  An opening reception is scheduled for Thursday, September 8, 4-6pm. The exhibition features work by four artists: Morrie Camhi, Erik Castro, Jay Mercado, and Christie Tirado. Their work ranges from documentation of the United Farmworkers fight for unionization in the 1970s to large-scale photographs, prints, and paintings that feature today's essential workers in the fields. The artworks displayed in the exhibition center on and honor the people who work in the fields, their lived experiences, and both the challenges and the skills of their labor. They bring our attention to that which we already know, yet we often too easily forget: farmworkers are the linchpin of our food system. 

At the core of the Farmworkers exhibition are photographs by Morrie Camhi, which are a part of the Sonoma State University Art Collection. Camhi's works document the United Farm Workers strikes and union activities of the early 1970s, telling part of the history of this powerful movement. Work by three contemporary artists accompany Camhi's photos. Local photojournalist Erik Castro is represented in the exhibition with his large-scale photographic portraits of Sonoma County grape harvesters. Castro's portraits offer visual stories of the individuals, all of whom hail from Mexico, and emphasize the pervasiveness of the wine economy in our region. Jay Mercado's paintings, influenced by his mural work, focus on labor in the fields that must be done by hand. Christie Tirado, in her vibrant print series, taps into the traditions of Mexican printmaking to honor our essential workers in the fields.

Morrie Camhi (1928-1999), based for several decades in Petaluma, CA, was a documentary photographer who taught at City College in San Francisco. He produced many socially engaged photographic series, including documenting prisoners in California jails and the Jewish immigrant community in Greece. In 1970, Camhi turned his attention to the United Farm Workers and their fight for the unionization of agricultural workers, particularly migrant workers. Camhi spent about two years photographing UFW union and strike activity, mostly in the area around Salinas. This area was the heart of the Salad Bowl Strike, based in Salinas' lettuce fields.

Erik Castro is an award-winning photojournalist based in Santa Rosa, California; his print media clients include the San Francisco Chronicle, the Press Democrat, Sonoma Magazine, and the Seattle Weekly. Castro has a long-standing interest in photography's power to humanize and bring visibility to complex social issues. His Harvester series focuses on the workers of Sonoma County's vineyards: each image is a portrait of a grape harvest worker who has agreed to be photographed out in the field, in the moments after they complete a day's shift. 

Jay Mercado, a painter and muralist based for many years in San Francisco, has recently moved his studio to a farm in rural New Hampshire. Mercado's works in this exhibition are part of his ongoing study of farm labor, specifically the labor intensive and skilled work of hand-harvesting crops. In these paintings, he focuses on the physicality, deft touch, and intensive time and concentration that is required to harvest any crop that must be picked by hand. In doing so, Mercado aims to both pay tribute to the laborers who do this work, and to remind his viewers of what happens between seed and table.

Christie Tirado is a printmaker based in the Yakima Valley region of Washington state. She frequently focuses on themes of labor in her art, including in her series on America's essential workers during the Covid pandemic, Mexican and Mexican-American workers in the hops industry, and Yakima Valley's apple and cherry pickers. As a Mexican-American artist, Tirado's work often revolves around the many diasporas that influence her identity, and her printmaking is strongly influenced by the rich tradition of relief block printing in Mexico. Tirado sees her prints as empowering agricultural workers, who are often not placed at the forefront of the industry. 

• Opening Reception - September 8, 4:00-6:00 pm
• Gallery Talk with Erik Castro - September 29, 12:00-1:00 pm

Both programs are free and open to the public and the SSU campus community. Visitors driving to the SSU campus must purchase an $8 parking pass from any automated parking kiosk. Seating is limited at the Gallery Talk with Erik Castro; advance reservations cannot be accommodated.