Public Media Arts Hub

A Brief But Spectacular take on painting the people who feed America


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: Narsiso Martinez is an artist whose work celebrates the vital and often invisible labor of farmworkers. Martinez's work is informed by his own experiences as a farmworker, spending summers picking produce in Washington state to support himself while studying at Cal State Long Beach.

Tonight he gives his Brief But Spectacular take on painting the people who feed America.

Narsiso Martinez, Artist: Anywhere in the world, farmworkers are always at the bottom of the social strata.

In my art, I just hope to shine a light to these people. They are not machines. They are human beings with goals and dreams. I grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Oaxaca City called Santa Cruz Papalutla. It was a poor community. Going to school was difficult. The roads weren't paved.

I came to the United States when I was 20 years old. My first memories in the United States had to do with education. I wanted to understand the culture. I wanted to know what the movies were about. And so my brother took me to Hollywood High within the first week of arrival. And that's where I enrolled to learn English.

And I got my high school degree in 2006. By that time, I was already 29, and I took an art history class, and that's when I fell in love with art. And so that's how I ended up in art school. I started working in the fields every summer to help pay for tuition. I was in academia and I was learning all these fancy words. And, at the same time, I was in the fields, listening to corridos and speaking slang to my co-workers.

I started meeting other farmworkers, and we started sharing stories. And I realized that it wasn't fair the way they were being treated. Most of these people, including myself, had a very difficult time growing up. I feel like, when we come to a country where there is a bed for us to sleep on, where there is a kitchen, where there is even a fridge that some -- many of these people lack in their countries, we are so grateful, right?

But then we're so grateful that sometimes we don't say anything. And the companies take advantage of that. I thought maybe I could, just by drawing a simple portrait on these produce boxes, I can create that connections or maybe think about those disconnections that exist within our societies and the people who work in the fields.

The conversations during my critiques were more about technicality. Nobody was really talking about the farmworkers. At one point, I was frustrated and stopped painting, and I went back to what I used to do when I was working in the fields, which was painting and sketching on cardboard.

I drew a banana man on this banana box. And that's when I would introduce my experiences of me working in the fields, which were maybe not the same, but similar to this person who was in this box. I have had a few exhibitions where the audience is the farmworkers themselves.

I'm just happy to see the positive response, like the smiles on their faces, being included, no? That's something that makes me happy and that makes me want to continue to do art. I don't feel the art if I don't speak for the community. It's not only about me now. It's about the community.

My name is Oaxaca,Narsiso Martinez, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on painting the people who feed America.

Geoff Bennett: And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.