KAG exhibition looks at Okanagan’s Mexican labourers

Deborah Koenker: Grapes and Tortillas has an open house at the Kelowna Art Gallery on Aug. 18.

Installation from Deborah Koenker: Grapes and Tortillas at the Kelowna Art Gallery.

With a bounty of fresh fruit being offered at local markets and stands across the Okanagan Valley at this time of year, have you ever stopped to consider just how it all gets there?

Bely RamonA new exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery focuses on the 2,000 temporary agricultural workers from Mexico hired each year by the Okanagan Valley’s fruit orchards, vineyards, and plant nurseries. The installation is entitled Deborah Koenker: Grapes and Tortillas. It is intended by the artist as a tribute to and a celebration of the hard work and the personal sacrifices of these migrant workers.

Visitors can explore the varied aspects of Koenker’s immersive installation, including 160 photographic portraits of these men and women, as well as a giant curtain made from orchard netting threaded with 2,000 coloured ribbons—a visual reference to Mexican shrines and acknowledgement of the number of workers here.

In addition, there is a nod to a Mexican kitchen that also serves to convey the story of Doña Vicky, an activist from Oaxaca. Also, viewers will see a shrine-like area, centred on an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is the patron saint of Mexico. Additionally, there is an 80-foot long Tortilla Wall piece comprised of photographs, and strung with barbed wire, which is accompanied by quotations from a poem called 187 REASONS MEXICANOS CAN’T CROSS THE BORDER by Juan Felipe Herrera, the current US poet laureate.

With all these components and more, the artist hopes to give viewers some sense of the issues around the situation of these workers as well as a taste of the culture of Mexico.

Kitchen installationDeborah Koenker is a Vancouver-based interdisciplinary artist with interests in writing and curatorial projects. She has an extensive record of exhibitions in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Her education consists of a BFA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, post graduate work at Central Saint Martins in London, England and has an MFA from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.

The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated, 152-page, full-colour catalogue with four texts.

Fiesta Mexicana, Aug. 18.

To complement this exhibition, a Fiesta Mexicana has been scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m.  The public is invited for an evening of celebration to enjoy the company of Sandy Diaz Hart, activist and co-founder of the El Faro Society (For Agricultural Workers in the Okanagan), along with some of the workers.

Learn more about life for the temporary agricultural workers in the Okanagan while enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine and music.

Deborah Koenker: Grapes and Tortillas will be on view until Oct. 30.

Abelardo GarciaThe Kelowna Art Gallery is located at 1315 Water St. in Kelowna’s Cultural District. For more information about current exhibitions, public programming or special events, please visit the Kelowna Art Gallery online or call 250-762-2226.