I've Always Worked Hard
What does work look like?
Is it someone holding a shovel or a power tool? Is it a mother with her children? Is it a briefcase and an office chair? Is it the creative pursuit of an artist, writer or performer?
PAFA’s Youth Council selections for this gallery present crisp examples of the colorful personalities of individual workers, like Froelich’s Man in Blue or Walter Kuhn’s Clown with Folded Arms, but they also question more general assumptions about what counts as work and what value western culture puts on different kinds of labor.
By drawing on the tradition of 20th century social realism but covering a much longer historical time frame, these images ask questions about who gets to work, who gets to choose what their work entails, and the impact of work on the human body. They show that the liberty to choose one’s path has, and still is, particularly constrained for women and people of color. They allude to the unequal values placed on types of labor, like the intense work required to care for an ailing family member compared with the emotional toll of working in a slaughterhouse. They also show the physical strain of wage labor in urban settings and the way that poverty sometimes recycles itself into an ongoing state of unwork – homelessness.
This exhibition displays many of the Youth Council’s working class heroes, from Jacob Lawrence’s Builders III to Sarah McEneaney’s Son Brother Lover Friend. Together, these art objects argue for universal appreciation for all the overlooked people who, as Elizabeth Catlett’s print argues, “have always worked hard.”