Longing by Rebecca Flores-MantillaSQ

Art in the Time of Change

By Rebecca Flores-Mantilla

Editor’s note: A FREE solo exhibition of Rebecca Flores’ work will take place from November 20–22, 2020, at Follow Your Art Community Studios in Melrose, MA, on:

  • Nov. 20, 6–8 p.m.
  • Nov. 21, 1–5 p.m.
  • Nov. 22, noon–4 p.m.

We encourage members of the public to sign up online in advance due to COVID-19 safety protocols. RESERVE YOUR SPOT >

This past year has been a whirlwind of new beginnings—a year mixed with the highs of creating art as well as the low created by a pandemic that has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the global psyche.

During this time, we’ve seen things come to a complete halt in our lives and we’ve had to adapt to what we call a “new normal.” But, amid the fear of the future, I’ve seen a resurgence in people globally slowing down and looking at the importance of family and how we nurture the people we care for. This became evident when store shelves lay bare, and people cocooned themselves in the familiar of their home. Bread making, sourdough starters, home cooked meals, kombucha, among other things became a comforting escape which goes beyond the need for physical sustenance. These fervent endeavors reveal a truth about the self: how it needs to be kept safe and cared for and how it finds a way to create memories which are positive.

What we eat is far more than sustenance for the body; it also sustains our psychological and emotional selves.

This idea—that what we eat is far more than sustenance for the body; it also sustains our psychological and emotional selves—is what I express and explore in my art. Thanks to the generous support of Follow Your Art Community Studios and The Foundation Trust, as the recipient of the 2020 Emerging Artist fellowship, I was given the chance to spend the year exploring the inherent emotional connection we have to food and how that connection both reflects and shapes our lives.

For myself, food has played an important role beyond shaping just my artwork. Parties during the 70s and 80s were always abundant with food. Most of the time a party meant an excuse to have many people over to enjoy potlucks, birthdays, holidays, or just “because.” It was a time of gathering and showcasing the abundance of love from family and friends and sometimes complete strangers who had the same affinity to coming together to share a meal.

Dessert display from family party circa 1980s
Dessert display from family party circa 1980s

Celebrations were not the only way food shaped my background. Extensive global travels as a child and young adult led me to experience food and different cultures beyond what one sees in a book or on a screen. Things I recall as a child can easily be brought back into focus just from the whiff from a bakery, the smell of a restaurant kitchen or even the simplest pleasure of biting into a garden fresh vegetable still warm from the sun.  Food is strong enough to evoke emotion from everyone; whether loved or loathed, we all experience it. It is the one commonality that crosses borders of race and unites humanity.

This year while we were sequestered away from our normal routines, I had the chance to really bring into focus what I wanted to showcase as the complete picture of what this fellowship has meant to me. Many of the pieces I created are nods to my childhood and the foods of that time—not only how I remember them as a child, but how I look on them now as an adult.

One of the first works took a common beverage which is consumed globally and is a worldwide business. Coffee for me as a child did not mean elaborate drinks from a coffee shop. Coffee for me was a reflection of my Greek grandfather and a ritual of watching an ibreki bubbling away on the stove and waiting for that black viscous liquid flowing into a small demitasse cup. The smell of coffee to this day is the pleasure I enjoy beyond just drinking coffee. Even in the mornings now, the smell of freshly roasted coffee coming from New England Coffee brings my day into focus.

Many of the foods I ate growing up in New England are not necessarily ones that most people would recount in their childhood. Being half Filipino, most of the foods which I would gravitate to were ones from frequent trips to Chinatown in Boston. Since Filipino products were rarely available in New England in the 70s and 80s, foods in Chinatown were the closest to those which my dad grew up with and we would always go to the bakeries, grocery stores, and restaurants there. The excitement of the city coupled with the scents and sights caused a flurry of emotions which made me look at the world and the vibrancy of the dishes and foods around me.

Food bridges the gap between cultures... and opens up possibilities.

My family loved to travel, and traveling also gave me the opportunity to build on that excitement of food. Rarely as a child did I shy away from trying the unfamiliar, and I can link experiences back to that desire to taste the world beyond just eating a food, but submerging myself in a culture with food as the key that let me unlock that new realm. One image that stays with me is that of a time in Europe traveling with my family and friends and stopping in a town which had so many seafood restaurants. Each restaurant tried to outdo the other with these elaborate seafood displays. Towering displays of fish and crustaceans looked like Renaissance paintings, drawing the viewer in for a closer inspection of a tableau for the eyes to feast upon.

European restaurant seafood display circa 1980s
European restaurant seafood display circa 1980s

Food bridges the gap between cultures for me and opens up possibilities. Farmers markets and all the colorful produce entice me to want to see and experience more of the places I visit and to assimilate myself into the culture. Sightseeing and stopping for breaks whenever I travel means seeing and tasting the world around me.

Even with the pandemic curbing travel right now, I’ve noticed how people are experimenting and finding a new love of the world we must exist in right now through food. Instagram, Flikr, Tik Tok and others have given rise to a new generation of visual seekers. The rise of digital media shows the power of food in a way that wasn’t possible a decade or two ago.

During this year I’ve tried to reflect on my past and how those experiences have translated into a body of work that touches on this distinctly human experience of making memories through our choices of food. My hope is that the viewer is able to through my work see the possibilities that we create through our shared experiences.

Artist Rebecca Flores-Mantilla in her studio
Artist Rebecca Flores-Mantilla in her studio

I am honored to be able to show the public my work during my first solo exhibit, taking place at Follow Your Art Community Studios from November 20–22, 2020.

If you would like to view more of my work, food-related commentaries and recipes, I can be reached at @sampaguita on Instagram. Inquiries for purchasing works can be direct messaged to Instagram and also to rflores44@hotmail.com.

Rebecca Flores-Mantilla is the 2020 Emerging Artist Fellow at Follow Your Art Community Studios.

Read more stories on Palette.

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