New Publication on Salinas Valley Roadside Agricultural Art

I’m pleased to share that Boom California recently published an new piece of mine, Roadside Art in the “Salad Bowl of the World:” How Agricultural Ideology Obscures Racial Capitalism and Inhibits Labor Reform. The essay grows out of my move to Santa Cruz, CA to to pursue my PhD in 2008. Ranging south from Santa Cruz through the Salinas Valley for research and for pleasure, I started noticing unique, larger than life billboard cut-out murals featuring farmworkers and farmers along the agricultural byways. When possible, I stopped to take photos of the work in the hopes of someday doing something with it.

Many years later, this essay is the result. It analyses the art as a form of agricultural ideology that, I argue, inhibits much needed labor reforms by either obscuring the role of California’s vast Latinx agricultural labor force or, alternately, depicting them as content in their work.

Although I have long incorporated my own photography into my research, this was my first time analyzing visual culture created by others. It is a line of work I intend to continue developing.

It was also a pleasure to return to Boom, which published my photo essay with Julie Sze, “Images from the Central Valley,” in their inaugural edition in 2011. Boom tries to thread the needle of doing public-facing scholarship that still “counts” in the evaluations that faculty undergo within their institutions by creating a free, online, magazine-like publication that still puts its manuscripts through peer review. It is a model I wish more publishers would adopt.

Billboard mural of “field man” Bob Lyman holding sliced head of lettuce. Vernon Morris provides scale. Photo by Tracy Perkins. Mural by John Cerney.

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