14“The gallery is a black metal sculptural object that used to have a life as a bookshelf that I wheel around on a red dolly,” said Ethan Pierce. “And I’m interested in the way it functions socially as I’m wheeling it through the streets of Cambridge and Boston, as well as architecturally in these spaces. But more importantly it’s the platform that it creates for interactions.” 6“What VES means to me is the freedom to do what you want with faculty supporting you … Understanding that liberal arts means so much more than what people think of it as. It means pursuing something that you love and having a practical component to it,” said Hua. 13“My thesis project is a pop-up gallery called the BBP gallery, which stands for Baby Boy Pierce, which is my real name,” said Ethan Pierce ’14-’15. “It serves as a platform for an alternative artistic discourse.” 7Zena Mengesha ’14 works in mixed media to explore the theme of utopia, “the idea of it and how it applies to urban design, advertising, and TV.” 2“The best part is the 24-hour access,” said Brooke Griffin. “I know this sounds weird, but I like that there are no windows in my studio. I can come here at night and it’s the same as in the daytime. There is not this constant reminder that you’re staying up all night.” Utopian worlds, sign-language poetry, and DNA origami — the subjects are as fascinating and varied as the students who explore them.Along a small street in the heart of Harvard Square, Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) students are busy at work on their thesis projects in the Linden Street studios.Converted from squash courts in 1999, the centrally located spot offers students generously open and well-lit spaces, 24-hour access, and studios shared with fellow students to inspire, collaborate, and critique their creations.“It’s nice to have a space with the other thesis students as a community, a place to come together,” said Brooke Griffin ’14. To her, the studios show that Harvard recognizes the importance of VES and its thesis students.“I love VES. It’s almost like which part of that love to talk about,” said Zena Mengesha ’14. “It’s really incredible to be able to dive into visual studies in the way VES sets it out. Human beings are such visually dependent creatures. And the attention that we pay to studying the visual world is relatively small … I don’t know if everybody thinks of art as an academically rigorous program, but it can be.”VES concentrators in studio art, film, video, and animation propose their thesis projects in the spring of their junior year, enroll in the program in the fall of their senior year, and work throughout the year to complete their projects. Just more than 70 percent of VES concentrators do a senior thesis. Starting on May 2, an exhibit of their final work will be on display in the Carpenter Center.“It’s unique to get space, and such great space,” said Manager of Academic Programs for VES Paula Soares. “It’s a privilege, and it’s something that a lot of schools cannot give their undergraduates. But it’s not just the space, it’s the resources, the one-on-one attention. The experience is rich in a lot of ways.”“This is truly a phenomenal resource to have. I will never have a studio space this nice in my life,” said Ethan Pierce ’14-’15. “Having access to these resources and materials as well as to the thesis budget really allows for an opportunity of exploration sans stress that is truly unique.”The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts presents “From Here,” an exhibition of thesis projects by seven graduating seniors from VES, including Zena Mengesha and Tony Cho. The exhibit runs from May 3 to May 29. 1Brooke Griffin ’14 organized her thesis around sign-language poetry. She created a mixed-media animation using watercolor, pen and ink, and tea leaves to explore the theme. 10Tony Cho ’14 investigates synthetic biology for this thesis project, “mainly two fields within that, microfluidics and self-assembly.” He makes interdisciplinary work with laser-cut acrylic that combines his interests in biology and the arts. 3Brooke Griffin called the Linden Street studios “a nice location. It’s very central. It’s right in the square. It’s hidden. It’s one of those building you walk around, you pass, and you don’t even think about … It’s hidden in plain sight.” 16Matthew Plaks ’14 photographs communities around the country and tries to unravel what it means to be inside and outside a community. His images focus on “exclusion and solitude.” 4Frederic Hua ’14 worked on an old piece of equipment called an Oxberry. “There aren’t very many left in the world. And it’s a down-shooter, a very big one,” he said. The machine has many knobs with exacting counters available to change the camera orientation. 11Tony Cho takes principles from DNA origami and brings them to the macro scale. He creates a video animation with tiles that move over a mixer. They hit each other randomly, and if the sequences on the side are complementary, they stay together; if not, they fall apart. 12Since Tony Cho spends much of his time at Harvard Medical School, the studio becomes an important place. “For me, this space shows you that there are so many interesting projects taking place … You learn from each other and incorporate some elements into your own work.” 15“I built an artist-in-residency program with this gallery with these four artists-in-residence that are all fictional characters — the walker, the painter, the poet, and the drag queen. And each of these characters … is a real world person who helped influence the project. And it’s those interactions and those conversations, the dialogue that is created from them, that is the heart of the project,” said Ethan Pierce. 9“It’s such a great opportunity to work in this space. I love everything about it. It’s really incredible to share it with other thesis students who you can see working. You can peek over and be informed by it,” said Mengesha. 5For his thesis project, Frederic Hua created an experimental, abstract, stop-motion animation using sand and other gritty materials. He started at Harvard studying stem cell biology before shifting his concentration to VES after an inspiring animation class with Ruth Lingford. 8Zena Mengesha works with a lot of different materials. “I started with a lot of foam core, a lot of model-making supplies, and a lot of cardboard. And I moved on to carving books. And then I started playing around with the garbage from the things I ordered.” 17In less than three months, Matthew Plaks traveled across 21 states, through large cities and small towns as a wandering photographer, engaging with communities, and, at times, staying in the homes of strangers. 18Speaking of his studio, Matthew Plaks shared, “I think I’m going to miss it. I know I’m going to miss it. I don’t think I’ll live in a space this big, at least not for a very long time. It’s a great place to focus and have some quiet and think about the work, and get down to the details.”
Asian Americans have characterized the Pacific Coast food culture all the way back to the California Gold Rush when immigrants planted the United States’ first domestic rice crops. From home to restaurants, the cuisine has seen a rise in popularity, becoming mainstream outside of the Asian American community. More people are familiarizing themselves with the staples: dumplings, seaweed, curry, dashi, ube. Yet, the U.S. food industry’s gold standard has remained purely Western, praising French cuisine and leaving its Eastern counterparts far from fine dining. Chefs Cecilia Leung, Isa Fabro, Sonoko Sakai and journalist Jean Trinh are changing this paradigm with unique approaches. Read more about the recent panelists and moderator in Vision & Voices’ Sweet and Salty: A Conversation With Asian American Women Chefs as they speak about their journeys and relationships with Asian American cuisine. Yet despite not always cooking the food of her heritage professionally, Fabro is proud of the art. For Fabro, cooking Filipino food has been a way to directly connect with her culture, an alternative from “book learning” as she calls it. As a child growing up in Japan, Sonoko Sakai was surrounded by artisans, from her mom and grandmother cooking family meals to the chefs she saw through the shop windows on her walk home from school. For her, food emphasized freshness and care. Jean Trinh: Award-Winning Food and Culture Journalist “Sometimes I really run on that adrenaline rush of hearing the tickets being printed and just moving those tickets down the rail and pushing the food through,” Leung said. “I mean that it just gets me really pumped up, and seeing what is accomplished at the end of service is amazing.” “Back in the day, when you wrote about any other food from another culture that people didn’t regularly know, we would have to italicize it then explain what it was,” Trinh said. “And I think it’s moving, now, towards not having title-asides. Like, not everyone’s doing that anymore. And I love that.” When reminiscing about the pickled plums, umeboshi, her grandmother taught her how to make, she said, “I’m making [umeboshi] here every season in May, and I’m just getting the finished product. But they’re not the same plums, because the trees are different, the climate’s different, the environment that you’re in is different, but you still have the memories and those memories are so precious.” When talking about her inspiration behind her signature Mango Royale, she said, “The Mango Royale [is] like having a mango in the Philippines in peak season. You know, ‘how do you capture that experience?’ You know, make a dessert where it really does the fruit justice.” Guest speakers Isa Fabro, Cecilia Leung, Sonoko Sakai and Jean Trinh discuss via Zoom Asian American food and culture (Celine Vazquez | Daily Trojan). “It’s a much deeper issue where you have to do mentorship of people of color, or different genders and actually give people opportunities and not just pigeonhole people,” Trinh said. “[Not] like if I’m Asian, I only write about Asian foods. Give people the opportunity to write about other things; don’t tokenize them. It’s changing the way you think about it.” As an instructor, her classes and books echo this approach to cuisine, emphasizing the stories behind her recipes. Ever since her return to Japan in 2009, Sakai has published “Japanese Home Cooking” along with two other cookbooks to teach people the fundamentals of the cuisine, starting with the basics. Amid the pandemic, though in-person classes have come to a halt, Sakai is offering online courses, making Japanese cooking more accessible to a diverse audience. “I was just making [Filipino] food and then I realized, wow, this is actually kind of important,” Fabro said. “People are saying that the foods I’m creating are making them feel proud.” Despite current increases in representation in food journalism, Trinh suggests there are still more ways the industry can improve. Isa Fabro’s work extends far beyond her Filipino-inspired pastries. Her company IsaMADE is a collection of projects that include everything from her famous pop-ups at local restaurants to her philanthropic endeavors. Since she traveled to the Philippines in 2016, Fabro has been at the forefront of the Filipino food movement, creating her own dishes at the culinary incubator Unit 120, which allows chefs to experiment with their cooking free from the financial constraints of opening a restaurant. Despite growing up with her family’s restaurant, Cecilia Leung was discouraged by her father from pursuing the culinary arts. Through fierce determination, she watched the restaurant’s chefs and learned how to cook and bake. Leung’s passion powered her motivation and her work ethic. Cecilia Leung: Chef Consultant & Former Executive Chef at Little Flower Candy Co. and Lincoln Restaurant Sonoko Sakai: Culinary Instructor & Cookbook Author Isa Fabro: Chef Consultant & CEO of IsaMADE In the food industry where more than 75% of chefs are male, Leung said, becoming the executive chef at both Little Flower Cafe and Lincoln, located in Pasadena. Her inclusive philosophy sets a positive atmosphere in her kitchen. Her desserts combine classical pastry technique with a Filipino twist. Whether it’s in the ingredients or flavors, her heritage shines proudly in her dishes. “When I hire cooks, regardless of what their gender is, I have to also set that tone for my staff,” Leung said. “It doesn’t matter who this person is, you have to treat them like you’re their teammate.” As a freelance journalist, Jean Trinh writes about cuisine, history and culture. Her articles include the evolution of Thai cuisine, hybrid pastrami and the importance of tang yuan during the Lunar New Year. The one thing these works have in common? Trinh shares the stories behind the inspiration of each dish, beyond the formulaic cooking methods and ingredients.