Our exhibition aims to showcase the feelings and struggles of the working class in our world today. Our world continues to run because of the hard-working men and women who spend long hours working physically demanding jobs, and these people are rarely represented in the arts, as art is something which is often reserved for the wealthy. By putting together an exhibition focused on labor, laborers, and their contributions to our society, we hope to draw attention to the struggles of the working class, and create a more educated and aware society. We rarely think about how we are impacted by people who work physically demanding jobs unless we know someone personally who works in such a field, and even if we do, we don’t put ourselves in their shoes and think about how it would be to work a hard job. Our exhibition plans to stimulate growth related to interest in art about work, and the struggles associated with it.
Throughout history, art has been something which only the wealthy have been able to enjoy. Historically, the working class haven’t had the time, education, or opportunities to practice art. This exhibition aims to make up for generations of underrepresentation by exposing the world to the trials and tribulations faced by the working class people of America, and the working class worldwide. Hopefully, exposing people to the attitudes and ideas represented by the working class will lead visitors to think more about how they are affected every day by the actions and labors of these people.
Our exhibition will aim to showcase two different kinds of works: pieces done about the working class, such as photographs of miners, or sculptures of migrant workers picking crops, or pieces done by the working class, such as paintings done by former factory workers representing the hardships endured by those working menial jobs. An example of the former is Worker’s Hands, a photograph Sonya Noskowiak, which shows the wear endured by a typical worker. The combination of these two kinds of works will lead to a synthesis which will accurately document the struggle of those who have been forgotten by society.
Our exhibition is extremely accessible and relatable for one main reason: almost everyone has worked a job they don’t like at one point or another. Even though not everyone has had an experience akin to those represented in the pieces, almost everyone has worked a job that they didn’t like at some time in their life. This feeling of dislike for your place of employment is something that is widespread, and will make our exhibition relatable for an extremely wide audience. Although we will try to reach as many people as possible, as that is the point of art, we will focus on people who work the kinds of jobs showcased by our exhibition. Hopefully this exhibition will be accessible to people in this group, and they’ll be able to afford entry into the museum. We will make our exhibition more accessible to the working class by lowering ticket prices for those who make less than a certain amount of money annually. To verify this, they will have to sign on to our exhibition’s website to apply for these reduced tickets. Those who work odd hours will be welcome to enjoy our special night time exhibitions, where we keep the exhibit open later than we normally would. Our exhibition will rely on word of mouth to sustain a regular audience, and the wide appeal of the subject matter will make it so word will spread far and wide fairly quickly. Social media will be instrumental in spreading the word about our exhibition, while mainstream media will be mainly avoided, as advertising using traditional media sources is expensive, and frankly, outdated in our modern world which relies heavily on technology, and social media specifically, in order to spread information.
In conclusion, our exhibition aims to expose the struggles faced by the working class today in America, and the working class throughout history. Class struggle is the story of history, and throughout history, only the upper class has had the chance to express their feelings through art. This exhibition will work to level the playing field regarding art and socio-economic class.
Walker Evans, Dock Worker, Havana, 1932
Walker Evans is a very well respected photographer from the early 20th century. Evans is mainly known for his capturing of the effects of the great depression for the Farm Security Administration. This piece is from a collection Evans did while on a trip to Havana, Cuba. Evans went to Cuba during a rough patch in the political climate. The country was under the dictatorship of Machado y Morales, which was covertly supported by the U.S. State Department. Evans was not taking a stance on the government, but rather just wanted to photograph the people of Cuba. "I simply went around everywhere I could get. I interviewed, and was helped by, Cuban revolutionaries as well as government officials." said Evans about his time there. His photos of Cuba were later featured in a book titled “The Crime of Cuba”, which took a very expository view on the matter.
While walking through the docks of Havana, Evans saw several dock workers whose faces were covered in coal dust. He went to get his camera and then proceeded to photograph the men. Evans was using an old box camera that was meant to photograph on plates instead of glass negatives, meaning the photo would capture more of the texture of the subject. The man in the photo was the oldest of the dock workers. This photograph is almost an informal mugshot, meant to capture the texture of the man’s face, as well as his emotions. This photo was not featured in “The Crime of Cuba”, but Evans did later include it in “American Photographs”, the 1938 monograph that was released at the Museum of Modern Art.
Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Obrero en huelga, asesinado (Striking Worker, Assassinated), 1934
This photograph shows an extremely scary image, a striking worker who has been killed for trying to fight for his rights. Many people were scared to go on strike because they didn’t want to end up how their striking partner ended up. The way it looks by the picture they clearly aimed for the man’s head and left him laying and bleeding out. This picture represents how hard it was for striking workers to be striking for what they really believe in. The man was striking to have better working conditions and to obviously get payed more. Maybe he wanted to provide more for his family, maybe his working conditions weren’t enough so he went on strike. This picture also shows how hard it was for men of color to be working and to be out in society in general, who knows what the man was thinking when he left home. Im sure he didnt think he would get murdered for fighting for his rights and wanting to have a better life. Either way we know this man was a hard worker because not just anyone would go on strike especially a colored man back in the days when it was really tough to be a colored man.
Sibyl Anikeef, Filipino Lettuce Worker, Salinas, California, 1936
This art piece depicts a Filipino field worker, bent over, picking up a box full of lettuce, somewhere in the Central Valley in California. This picture captures the hardship of the workers that picked crops in California during the Great Depression brilliantly, as we are reminded that picking crops is, quite literally, back-breaking work. The conditions were bad back then, and compared to the jobs that urbanized people today work, they were almost unimaginably bad. Men and women would work in the farms under horrible conditions, with the warm California sun blazing in the sky. This kind of field work was extremely hard on the back and the knees, as there was a lot of lifting and bending down required. Workers would often sustain extremely serious injuries from all the hard work they would do in the field. Their hands were bruised up, some workers would get sick and would pass out from the conditions. Throwing one's back out was common, and knee injuries were often left untreated because workers couldn't afford medical attention. The worst part was, for all of the hard work they were doing, they made only enough money to barely provide for their self and family, as their family members would have to work in the fields as well in order to survive. While it was extremely hard work, the worker pictured here was probably extremely happy to have work at all, as this picture was taken during a time when a huge portion of Americans could not find any work at all.
Sonya Noskowiak, Worker's Hands, 1937
This art piece shows the hard work and hardships that the people of the Great Depression went through. Through something as simple as the texture of one's hands, we are told a story, and we begin to be able to imagine the hardships that were endured by this woman. In 1937 when this piece was made, the Great Depression was in full swing, meaning that a lot of people that were farmers, who often had to work even harder than they were used to just to make barely enough money to survive. These people have went through different hardships and faced many different obstacles, and the fact that we don't know what job this woman worked is what makes this piece so intriguing. She is simply described as a "Worker," and thus, her experience can be applied to everyone's experience as a worker. We chose this art piece because it really represents how people of all different occupations dealt with the hard work and their very physically demanding jobs. This piece really related to our presentation because it represents the hard work done by all workers, and it should be shown more in the media so that people of our time can be more educated.
Lewis Wickes Hine, Three Girls in a Factory, ca. 1910
This photo shockingly showcases the fact that in the early 20th century, a time period which, in the grand scheme of things, was not that long ago, going to work was a family affair. This was taken in a factory in 1910, a time when children working factory jobs was the norm. This was more of the Pre-Great Depression era, and it lead to the events which we see in other parts of the gallery. The working conditions look awful not to mention the three girls are underage. At the time child labor was an everyday practice, it was viewed as a normal event and it was not looked down upon. This image is perfect for our exhibition because it shows the children working in harsh conditions. This image was part of the Lewis Wickes Hine collection which most of his collection is from the early 1900’s. The workers were probably underpaid, given little to no breaks, and were forced to work in these terrible working conditions to support their families. Most business prefered children to work in their factories because they were cheaper to pay and also they were more likely to not get injured while working because they are still young.
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Worker, Coachella Valley, California, 1935
This image showcases the stark loneliness which came with being a migrant worker at the time. This image was taken in California in 1935 by Dorothea Lange, a famous American photographer, who was another work featured later on in the gallery. This was taken during the Great Depression and the image being in black and white really adds to the effect of it being in such harsh times. But this image is especially geared more towards migrant workers and they worked on the fields, bearing in the hot sun. In the picture we see a large plain, most likely to be a field of crops and the person in the middle is probably one of the workers. The little houses are the migrant workers little place where the workers can relax not in sight of the sun. In the photo, it looks to be very hot, the soil is dry, and the crops are all dead, this might be a sign of a drought. Additionally, the Coachella Valley today is where the Coachella Music Festival takes place, and it is highly ironic that thousands of well-off young people come religiously every spring to dance to overpaid artists in the desert, in a place where migrant workers spent their lives toiling away to barely scrape by.
Tina Modotti, Untitled ["1st of May Manifestation - Labor Day - Taken from a balcony of the National Palace"], 1927
Tina Modotti’s “1st of May Manifestation” photo captures the true soul of the working class. The whole town is out in the square celebrating the abilities that they all share the work hard and make a living for themselves. However during the thirties people struggled with the Great Depression and had a really hard time making money. The thirties brought on the Dust Bowl, which brought in very low crop yield. This combination of low crop yield and rough living conditions made people abandon entire settlement in hopes of finding new land to farm, which makes this celebration of settlement especially powerful.
Tina Modotti was born in Italy and moved to the San Francisco when she was 16 in 1913. Growing up, Tina was in plays and performances as a dancer and actress all over the Bay Area. Soon after, in her early 20’s she became a revolutionary activist who photographed the Mexican revolution through a communist lens.
This depiction of a group of people celebrating Labor Day, in a time of where bad labor conditions were that was something very difficult to overcome is very appealing to a wide variety of people, giving the fact that a wide variety of people work and have everyday jobs. Or goal is create an exhibition that captures the soul of the working class, and through this photo of the working class celebrating Labor Day, we have.
Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Niño obrero, México (Child Laborer, Mexico), 1986
Pablo Ortiz Monasterio is thought to be the most one of the mossy influential figures in Mexican photography. As the founder of the Centro de la Imagen, in Mexico City, which served as an important place for education and development, Monasterio was able to achieve great steps and develop enemy in the wolf dog photography. This center offered extensive educational material for people to come and use from all over the country. when means center for the image. In 1995 Monasterio published La Ultima Ciudad - the last city, a collection of black and white photos of crime ridden streets of Mexico.
This photo of a child laborer is hard to swallow, but captures the spirit of Mexican world force. Everyone is willing and able to work, and propel step up to the plate without being asked. This forward thinking mentality of getting in front of your problems before they even become problems is very compelling to people. People see themselves in this photo, knowing that they once had to work hard to get something they really wanted.
The child in the photo carries a certain swagger about him. The child seems to be saying “What are you talking about hard work? This is nothing.” Making people think about their own situation in life and how much work they have to do everyday. Hopefully this photo will serve as a wake up call to any of those people who complain that they work to much, or are too stressed out, there are bigger problems out there.
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother of 6, Age 32, Now Living in California, 1936
Arguably the most famous piece in the gallery, this Dorothea Lange photograph captures the uncertainty and struggle faced by migrant workers in the early to mid 20th century. The look on the face of the mother tells quite a story, you can see the hardships she has endured in her eyes. Her children hide their faces, probably because a camera was an unfamiliar thing to them, and living in poverty causes a deep distrust of things which are new or alien. The raw emotion contained by the photograph is what caused it to achieve the fame it has today.
The photograph was taken in 1936, during the height of the Great Depression in the United States. Everyone was hit hard by the economic downturn which plagued the nation, but poor laborers and migrant workers, like the one pictured here, were hit the hardest. Large families, like the one in the picture (there were six children in the family) had trouble feeding everyone, and this led to movement in search of new opportunities. The sprawling farms of the Central Valley in California offered hope for migrant workers, who worked the fields which produce almost half of our nation’s food today. California was seen as as a land of opportunity during this period, and the 1930s saw millions of Americans flocking to the Golden State in search of greener pastures.
Dorothea Lange was an American photographer who was most famous for her work during the Great Depression. She worked for the Farm Security Administration during this time, which was a New Deal effort to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression. Photographs such as this one helped to alert urban Americans of the hardships faced by their brothers and sisters living outside of cities
Pirkle Jones, Unidentified Migrant Worker Brought to the Valley for the Last Harvest, from the series Death of a Valley, 1956
This photograph shows a migrant worker picking grapes in California in 1956, which is almost two decades after most of the other photographs in the gallery. After the end of the Great Depression and WW2, while many Americans saw an improvement in wages, work conditions, and quality of life overall, the lives of the farm workers of the West were often overlooked. While in other parts of the country, we were hurtling towards the bustling, modern society we know today, in rural areas, migrant workers were still living and working as people in their profession had been for hundreds of years.
The fact that the worker is holding a box of grapes is highly significant, as grapes were arguably the most controversial crop of the 20th century. Cesar Chavez’s largest and most successful boycott with the United Farm Workers was a boycott of grapes in California, which started in 1965, and lasted over 5 years. At the time the photograph was taken though, the UFW was still six years away from being founded, and conditions were still bad in most farms across the country.
Pirkle Jones, who took this photograph, was a documentary photographer who was most famous for his work on “Death of a Valley,” from which this piece comes. That work was a collaboration with Dorothea Lange, the photographer from the previous work. “Death of a Valley” chronicled the decline and death of the town of Monticello, California, after the Monticello Dam was completed, leaving the land virtually useless.
The design of the floor in our exhibition is very unique and also has a obscure message. The long pathway of our exhibition is suppose to represent the commute to work. We decided to go with the red carpet because it symbolize the workers commute to work and how they have to dress or look a certain way to conform to society. Citizens have to act differently when out in public, making their way to work. At the end of the hallway, the start of a new floor design begins. We chose crocodile skin as our floor design because it represents the workers struggles and how they have to act as animals and really have to get their hands dirty. We believe these two floor designs really emphasize the struggle of the working class and how society has an underlying standard. When viewed from above, the exhibition forms the shape of a cross, which was a highly intentional move from a design standpoint. This is supposed to represent the tyranny of the church throughout history, as the cross, and religion, have been used to keep the working class in line. The promise of a good afterlife if one was a good citizen in this life on Earth is what has kept workers from speaking out against the injustices that they have faced, and “God having a plan” is what kept those workers from questioning the harsh situations they faced every day.
All photos courtesy of the SFMOMA Fischer Collection, which can be found here: https://www.sfmoma.org/search/
Any use of copyrighted material is for educational purposes only.