“In this episode, I talk with Honolulu-based artist, activist, and cultural organizer Rebecca Maria Goldschmidt. Rebecca’s winding path to her current practice reflects the complex layers of intercultural analysis and research she brings to her engagements with people and materials: growing up in Chicago’s Jewish community, her study of languages and photography, creative entrepreneurship, working as an educator facilitating Las Fotos Project with youth in Tijuana, and seeking out Hawaiʻi’s Filipino community to take part in Ilokano language and cultural reclamation within the diaspora. In one of her most recent projects, Nabanglo a lamisaan, she created a tasting table of sukang ilocos, sugar cane vinegar, to enable conversations about labor history, cultural practice, and imperialism. The project emerged from a collaborative exploration with botanists at the University of Hawaiʻi–where she attempted to make her own vinegar from local sugar cane–as well as research into anti-colonial resistance in the Philippines, such as the Basi Revolt. Over the course of our conversation, we talk about the trajectory of her practice and how she approaches Ilocano cultural recovery work while on the ‘āina, Native Hawaiian lands.”
“Filipino Jewish artist Rebecca Maria Goldschmidt kept hitting dead ends. Goldschmidt, a 31-year-old graduate student at the University of Hawaii who chose that school because she wanted to study the state’s rich Filipino culture, tried making suka (Filipino sugar cane vinegar) from sugar canes native to Hawaii. But it didn’t work. She tried making paper out of bagasse, leftover cane stock, and after weeks of ripping up the leaves in her studio, crushing them, soaking them, and boiling them, it didn’t work, either.
There was nothing that came out of the process that had value, she said. But it made her think about time — about the time it takes to do things, even things that don’t turn out, and the labor that we don’t see, labor that’s easy to forget.”
Read more about Working Conditions in Juliana Feliciano Reyes’ article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The piece Goldschmidt contributed to “Working Conditions” symbolizes labor and the transformation of sugar. She inverts the political economy of sugar; while sakada work with sugar was hard, even oppressive, vinegar is something that Filipinos use to protect their bodies, and preserve their food and their culture.
In the exhibit, the Filipino American artist has a long table covered with a print of sugar cane pulp, along with a couple pieces of cane. She also placed several bottles filled with different types of vinegar left open for people to smell, taste, and connect with.
“I ask people how they use vinegar, how it works in their community, neighborhood, and house. It’s not just specific to the Philippines. Everyone uses it, so it has this sort of intercultural function that we can connect with other people. It also reminds us of the sugar plantations and the people who work there.”
Read more of Lalaine Ignao’s article in the Philippine Inquirer.