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Deborah Koenker : Grapes and Tortillas (Paperback) (Liz Wylie)
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Canada’s agricultural industry employs, almost exclusively, temporary workers from Central America and their presence fuels debate on both sides of the political spectrum from accusations of exploitation to accusations of stolen Canadian jobs. Deborah Koenker focuses on the Mexican migrant workers hired by the Okanagan Valley’s orchards and vineyards. Through photography and installation she celebrates their hard work, their contribution to the Canadian economy, and their dedication to their families from whom they are separated for long periods. The artist’s intention is to put names and faces to a workforce that is typically isolated from the communities in which they work, largely due to requirements that worker housing be located on the farms, but as well by language and racial barriers, lack of opportunities for socializing, and the difficulty of accessing transportation. Related themes of food, food production, and the mega-agricultural economy are addressed in the accompanying essays. Born in Chicago, Deborah Koenker is a Vancouver-based interdisciplinary artist with an extensive record of exhibitions throughout North America. These include solo exhibitions in Vancouver at the Western Front and the Richmond Art Gallery, as well as at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and in Los Angeles at Chapman University and Rio Hondo College Art Gallery. In 2011 her collaborative work with architect Roberto Pacheco was featured at the Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, British Columbia.