Seasonal workers tell their story through art in a new exhibition
PROBLEMS with social security, difficulty understanding the tax system, and the struggle to pay rent while working to a zero-hours contract are just some of the challenges of coming to Jersey as a seasonal agricultural worker.
It is not so much the issues that are surprising – rather the fact that they emerge vividly not from the latest government survey, or from a charity speaking to vulnerable people but from an exhibition in the Arts Centre’s Berni Gallery mounted by the Polish artist Alicja Rogalska and the Morning Boat project.
Over the past two years, the London-based artist, who has shown her work across the world, has been talking to Polish seasonal workers in Jersey. The exhibition Invisible Hands is now on display.
‘I work as an artist to explore relationship and frameworks for others to respond to,’ Ms Rogalska explains. ‘I wanted the workers to have their own voice. It’s about acting as a support structure and providing the space for the workers to speak. They are often spoken about but rarely invited to speak themselves.’
One strand of the exhibition is a list of workers’ recommendations about how life could be made happier for them. Morning Boat artistic director, Kaspar Wimberley, said: ‘They are not demands because they are not in a position to make demands. They are comments about how the system works or doesn’t work for them.
‘We are not searching for a scandal but for the opportunity to share these views in a cultural setting and to give the seasonal workers the chance to be seen as part of Jersey and its wider community.’
The second element of the exhibition is a prize. The bronze Jersey Royal, made by the workers and produced in workshops with Ms Rogalska, is not so much a prize as an ideal.
Mr Wimberley sees it as a challenge to the Island of Jersey to ensure fair and attractive working conditions through legislative and industrial action, something that will be welcomed by farmers and workers alike. He is unsure about when and to whom it might ultimately be awarded but it represents an aspiration for more secure lives.
The final component of Invisible Hands is a selection of photographic images taken by the seasonal workers themselves that help fill a gap in Jersey’s photographic collections.
‘The workers have been taking selfies and landscape shots which are quite different from formal, posed images’, said the artist. ‘They are much more intimate and offer a quite different perspective.’
These images will be added to the photographic archive at the Société Jersiaise at the conclusion of the exhibition, which runs at the Arts Centre until Saturday 7 December.
Much of the other work of the different strands of the Morning Boat project has been based on live performance or temporary installations. Kaspar Wimberley notes that ‘we don’t normally do exhibitions’ but there is something appropriate about a more formal setting – a cultural context, as he puts it – for work by contributors who may not usually think of visiting the Arts Centre, far less putting work on the walls.
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