How Exhibitions on Main Artist Nataly Welch Realized Community by Looking Back into the Past
Like many immigrants to the United States, Nataly Welch has had to get creative to achieve a sense of community within their adopted home country. “In the Philippines, I was the same as everyone else,” Welch says. “But since we moved to the U.S. [at six years old], I’ve felt perpetually out of place.” To remedy that, Welch decided to find out as much as they could about Filipino-American history. In the process, they was introduced to a pair of key but largely forgotten Filipino-American players in the Farmworkers’ Movement, Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong. And what Welch learned ultimately became the focus of Welga!, a series of paintings on display now within THE BLOCKS’ Exhibitions on Main kiosk at 340 S. Main Street.
In case you missed it in history class, the Farmworkers’ Movement was championed in the 1960s and ’70s by Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Filipino immigrants who worked physically demanding, low-paying jobs on farms in California and Arizona. These workers, while responsible for growing and harvesting most of the food people in this country eat, lived in horrible poverty, and lacked educational opportunities for their children. And when they sought fair treatment, were faced with vehement and often violent discrimination.
Cesar Chavez, the 1970s-era founder of the National Farm Workers Association, is likely the most recognizable organizer associated with the Farmworkers’ Movement. Much lesser known, however, are the important contributions Vera Cruz and Itliong—both of whom emigrated to the United States from the Philippines as teenagers in the 1920s—made to this movement as well. Itliong led Filipino farm workers out of the fields and onto the picket lines for California’s legendary Delano Grape Strike in 1965. Vera Cruz was known as a quiet intellectual who worked closely with Chavez once the United Farm Workers were born.
Welch had “always been a creative kid,” and regularly begged their parents for art supplies as they was growing up. Their academic path veered, however, toward environmental sustainability once they enrolled in college at the University of Utah. But then when the pandemic arrived in 2020, Welch was compelled to take art more seriously. They applied and was received into Partners, an Art Access mentoring program that matches an emerging artist with a disability or from another marginalized community with an established artist to work together for a year. Welch, who was interested in learning more about public art, was paired with the sign-making and mural artist Shley. And when Welch presented the idea of creating a series of paintings based on her research on Filipino contributions to the Farmworkers Movement for Exhibitions on Main consideration, Shley encouraged her to go for it.
Welga! (meaning Strike! In Filipino) is a series of paintings depicting preparations and activities surrounding the Delano Grape Strike. Welch upped the storytelling aspect of the exhibit by including an almost century-long timeline of Filipino efforts to achieve fair wages, safe working conditions and educational opportunities for all of America’s farmworkers.
“I had no idea about this forgotten piece of history and had to find out about most of it on my own,” Welch says. “And so, it just made sense to me to take up this space (on the Exhibitions on Main kiosk) with this really critical time in America’s and Filipinos history.”
Welga! will remain on display through the end of November 2021. Welch’s work can also be seen in an upcoming exhibition of self-portraits, titled Sonder, scheduled to open at the Urban Arts Gallery on January 4, 2022.
Written by Melissa Fields