Artist Narsiso Martinez wins Frieze Impact Prize for series highlighting migrant workers’ plight

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When Frieze Los Angeles’s 2023 edition opens at the Santa Monica Airport next week (16-19 February), the migrant workers who power California’s mighty agricultural industry will be front and centre thanks to the work of Narsiso Martinez.

The Mexico-born, Long Beach-based artist has been awarded this year’s Frieze Impact Prize, which recognises socially engaged work and provides a platform for it at the fair. Martinez receives $25,000 and a solo stand showcasing works from his Sin Bandana series, large-scale portraits of migrant agricultural workers realised on discarded produce boxes.

“Drawn from my own experiences as a farmworker, I pay homage to the people who toil in the fields picking the produce we consume,” the artist said in a statement. “I portray farmworkers on discarded produce boxes many times collected from grocery stores. This allows me to reflect upon the disparities of socioeconomic lifestyles, that of the farmworkers and agribusiness owners.”

Narsiso Martinez, Fresh Asparagus, 2022 Courtesy the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles

This is the second year the Frieze Impact Prize has been awarded; in 2022, the inaugural edition went to artists Mary Baxter, Maria Gaspar and Dread Scott. This year, the prize is a partnership between Frieze and Define American, a non-profit that supports storytelling around the experiences of immigrants.

“Immigrants are not a monolith; their stories are diverse and nuanced,” Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas said in a statement. “Narsiso Martinez’s portraits of migrant farm workers bring to life complex, compelling, and authentic immigrant stories that are often overlooked, yet part of the American experience.”

The prize was inspired by a work created by the Los Angeles-based artist Mark Bradford and shown at the fair’s inaugural edition in 2019. Titled Life Size (2019), it depicted a body camera like those worn by police officers.

Martinez’s work was selected by a jury consisting of Vargas, Mexican American artist and activist Tanya Aguiñiga, and collector Ariel Emanuel, who is the chief executive of entertainment company Endeavor (Frieze’s majority shareholder).

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