El Compadre Restaurant to Launch Taller Grafica Popular Art Show

Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller at El Compadre, Phila PA - Photo by Reese Amorosi


When immigration rights activists and wedded restaurateurs Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller opened shop, part of their goal was to act as presenters of the art of protest. The marrieds presented gallery shows at their former restaurant, South Philly Barbacoa (just off East Passyunk Avenue’s culinary mile), and now at El Compadre in the Italian Market.

That advocacy will be on full display on August 29 at the “TGP Art Show: Wealth, Poverty, and Labor.” The event will include lithographs and linoleum cuts from Taller Grafica Popular gallery, music from Moor Mother, Shakoor Sanders and Maria Grande, and free snacks and drinks.

This is how a fantastic and famous Mexican restaurant – one acclaimed by Bon Appetit magazine – can serve up helpings of social justice and live art activism with what is notably the best barbacoa in the area.

 “We aren't the front line of activism, but we do have a platform because of the food,” said Miller, who formed the Philly-based Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers’ Rights organization and its #Right2Work initiative. Miller was inspired by the plight of his wife, Cristina Martinez, who walked the lengths and breadths of a Mexican desert to get to America in 2009.

Benjamin Miller at El Compadre Photo by Reese Amorosi
As she did in Mexico, Martinez still butchers, then slow-cooks meats including beef and lamb to succulent perfection, while friends and family make tortillas of corn from an indigenous Zapatista community in Chiapas, a corn named after Cristina's son Isaias Berriozabal-Martinez.  It was Isaias who opened El Compadre in to great acclaim in October 2016, but he passed away several months later in 2017. This led to Martinez and Miller relocating their barbacoa business to the Italian Market in his memory, at his 1149 S 9th Street address.

Both Martinez and Miller express sorrow as to how their move into the Italian Market occurred, and they have done the best to make each element of El Compadre a tribute to Isaias' memory. “The feeling we had when Isaias died and left behind this restaurant was overwhelmingly sad, but we are putting our love in here and pushing forward,” said Martinez. “We saw how much the community is like our family when we were mourning, and now we are a part of this community which is growing,” says Miller. “We love to be here with the excitement of 9th Street, and our customers are very happy about the move.”

With that comes El Compadre’s first arts-and-music escapade, “Wealth, Poverty and Labor” with lithographs and linoleum cuts from the now 80-year-old Taller de Gráfica Popular print collective founded by artists such as Leopoldo Méndez, whose work is represented this week. Along with displaying Mexico’s activist art in a rare showing and setting, experimental electronic poet-musicians such as Moor Mother Goddess, percussionist Shakoor Sanders and Swiss songstress Maria Grand will sing for their supper and in the spirit of protest.

In reflecting the mission of El Compadre beyond food, this show, said Miller, depicts poverty and homelessness juxtaposed with wealth, greed, and exploitation. “Even though these prints are from the 40s and 50s in México, these images are relevant now in Philadelphia,” he said. “Homeless populations are pushed away from public view because we don't want to see them. This is not solving a problem or addressing a cause. There are homeless folks rout here on 9th Street, and they are just as much a part of our community as a business owner. That must be addressed.”

The other dynamic of the TGP show is focused on the power of solidarity and unity pushing back against exploitation and greed. “We hope the people continue to come together in unity for all of our rights,” said Miller. “This gallery event is artistic and collaborative, rather than overtly political, but even the act of a diverse group of creative people coming together to create is a political act in itself in these times of divisive rhetoric.”

“TGP Art Show: Wealth, Poverty, and Labor,” August 29, 2017 will be at El Compadre Restaurant, 1149 S. 9th Street, 6-9 p.m. Free admission.

Photos ©Reese Amorosi 2017

Posted on Tuesday, August 29, 2017