The French painter Jean-François Millet, one of the fathers of pictorial realism, was one of the first artists to portray workers whilst doing their labour. In this way, he facilitated the incorporation of the working class into the, up to that time, very narrow space of representation and the fine arts. His most famous painting, The Gleaners of 1857, depicts a scene in which three peasant women pick up by hand the harvest’s leftovers, an activity which back then was considered one of the most socially degrading. In the painting, we can hardly discern the faces of the women. They bend down in order to carry out this painful activity. In the background of the image we can see the landowners’ carts full with the year’s abundant harvest.
In this video, DSK have blended this painting together with a scene in which three women shellfish gatherers pick up the oil spill in a beach. A sense of historical continuity is hereby created, a portrait of the working class which seems immobilised in its poverty. And still, after the disaster provoked in Galicia’s coast line by the sinking of the oil tanker “Prestige”, these shellfish gatherers, women that on a daily basis have to defy the dangers of nature to carry out their work, come out to the beaches in order to once again bend down. This time their aim is not to gather shellfish, but rather, to clean up the beaches from the toxic substance which is putting their economic survival at risk.
This deeply evocative piece presents us with a social critique that highlights a problematic that the passing of the centuries has not been able to erode, namely, the economic differences between genders, as well as the social perception of poverty.