During the 1980s and 1990s, Cal State San Marcos artist and professor David Avalos collaborated on a number of highly publicized public art projects in San Diego County that raised questions about the treatment of hourly wage-earners and migrant workers.
In 1988, along with artists Elizabeth Sisco and Louis Hock, he created a public transit poster focusing on the exploitation of undocumented Mexican and Central American workers in the San Diego tourist industry. The posters, which read “Welcome to Amer-ica’s Finest Tourist Plantation,” were mounted on 100 San Diego Transit buses during the month of the city’s first Super Bowl.
Currently, one of these posters is included in a new traveling exhibit called “At Work: The Art of California Labor,” which opened at the California Historical Society in San Francisco on Labor Day, September 1, 2003, and at the San Francisco State University Fine Arts Gallery on September 2. The exhibit will travel throughout California until 2007. Venues in Carlsbad and San Diego are negotiating to be part of the tour.
The companion exhibitions comprise the first overview of labor themes in 20th century California art and include works by a variety of historic and contemporary labor artists, including Tina Modotti, Dorothea Lange, Diego Rivera, Sebastio Salgado, as well as Sisco, Hock and Avalos.
According to Avalos, “The poster depicts the hands of tourist industry laborers, bus boys and chambermaids. The central image is of two men being handcuffed together by a border patrol agent. The text is a parody of San Diego’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau self-proclaimed status as ‘America’s Finest City.’ San Diego’s ‘finest’ tourist economy could not exist and profit without the labor of undocumented workers. Instead of being driven underground they should be given full political rights.”
The poster has been in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, since 1988. A poster was purchased by the Latino Museum in Los Angeles this past summer.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the bus poster will be included in a book of the same title. Published by CHS Press and Heyday Books, the book catalogs more than 100 works by artists who have recorded, preserved and in some cases defined the history of labor in California over the last century.
Avalos joined the visual and performing arts faculty at Cal State San Marcos in 1991, where he is currently a professor and the chair of the California Faculty Asso-ciation’s faculty rights committee.
Avalos co-founded the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizoan interdisciplinary, bi-national group devoted to socially and politically engaged art. He has twice received individual artist’s fellowships for his studio work from the National Endowment for the Arts and also from the California Arts Council.
He was born in San Diego and raised in a working class, mostly Mexican-American neighborhood in National City.