Treasures from the Vault: Ester Hernández

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

Sun Raid by Ester Hernández is colorful, cartoony, and reminiscent of retail product images by Pop artist Andy Warhol. This playful first impression belies a serious subtext that relates to current politics and references the artist’s iconic Sun Mad screenprint created in 1981-82. 

Ester Hernández, American, b. 1944. Sun Raid. Screenprint on paper, 2008. Museum purchase with funds provided by the American Art Initiative Capital Campaign, 2013.57.7. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Hernández grew up in a small farming community in California’s San Joaquin Valley. While attending the University of California, Berkeley in the 1970s she became interested in printmaking, and her involvement with the Mexican Americans’ struggle for civil rights is evident throughout her works.  

The terms Chicana/o Movement, El Movimiento, and Latin American Civil Rights Movement describe a range of community activism beginning in the 1960s that affirmed cultural pride and fought for social, political, and economic rights, land restoration, and educational reform. Notable was the influence of the United Farm Workers Union that unified the struggles of Mexican and Filipino American farm workers for improved working conditions and better wages. They organized strikes, boycotts, and activities in support of California grape workers that also helped galvanize the larger movement. 

In both screenprints Hernández uses Sun-Maid raisins’ familiar corporate logo. The original packaging features a wholesome Lorraine Colette Petersen, a fruit packer from Fresno, California, who became synonymous with San Joaquin Valley’s agribusiness. Even her original bonnet lives at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. 

In her earlier rendition, Hernández removed the letter “i” from Sun Maid to read Mad. A smiling skeletal maiden holds a basketful of lush grapes and becomes part of a cautionary tale about the lethal ramifications of exposure to chemicals used in the agricultural industry. At the bottom, in lieu of the original slogan, “Natural California Raisins,” is a list of unnatural additives: fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and miticides. The artist recalled, “I made the print Sun Mad as a very personal reaction to my shock when I discovered that the water in my hometown, Dinuba, California, which is the center of the raisin-raising territory, had been contaminated by pesticides for 25 to 30 years. I realized I had drunk and bathed in this water.”i Their crop application ensured a successful yield, but at what cost to consumers, Mexican American farm workers (like her grape farm working family members), and the environment? 

In the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s 2008 version, Hernández updated the word Mad for Raid. The skeletal maiden is now in traditional Mexican dress and wears a wrist monitor from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Hernández uses satire in the spirit of José Guadalupe Posada, who used skeletons and skulls in relief prints that mocked 19th century Mexican society.  

The ingredients this time name Mexican indigenous groups in Oaxaca, Mexico from where many undocumented farm workers in the U.S. come. Created during an increase in workplace raids during the George W. Bush administration, Hernández wrote on her personal website, “The intention of this artwork is to create a dialogue about the new face of farmworkers who are mostly indigenous peoples from Mexico and Central America.”ii  

Using a humorous, biting approach, the two prints concisely summarize the plight of Mexican and Mexican Americans. The artist uses the same tools of manipulation in branding and advertising to upend the original product message and dismantle public trust. 

i Lucy Lippard, Mixed Blessings: New Art in Multicultural America (New York: Pantheon Books: New York, 1990), 200. 

ii Ester Hernández, Ester, “Sun Raid,” Ester Hernandez: Artista Visual, April 20, 2023,

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