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On a recent afternoon, Anthony Febo chopped a plantain in his kitchen. The plantain would be fried up and eaten. But the chopping was a part of his spoken word performance art. “Tonight, I’m cooking,” he recited, “because I miss the creation that my hands can make…”
The kitchen is where Febo connects with his best friend Ricky Orng. They go as Febo and Ricky, and they do a cooking and slam poetry show together. Febo is Puerto Rican, and Ricky is Cambodian. They call themselves "Adobo-Fish-Sauce," after seasonings used in their cultures' cuisines.
The show is built off their personal lives. “The whole idea with the show was talking about our identities, talking about our culture, and home and heartbreak, and navigating through challenges,” says Ricky. “But also celebrating and finding joy in all those things.”
Home, for both of them, has been Lowell. It’s where they met, a decade ago, on the slam poetry scene. The industrial mill town is a hub of immigrant life. It’s home to one of the country’s biggest Cambodian-American communities.
Febo and Ricky both have the experience of spanning two different cultures, and two different places. That in-between feeling is something Febo thinks about a lot as he writes: “What [does] it means to grow up here but have a whole different culture in your heart and in your home? How do you fuse both of those together, how do you have them live in harmony with each other, you know?”
Those are the questions they were working through, a few years ago, when they dreamed up their first show together. The goal was to take the energy of slam poetry, and turn it into something new. They both enjoyed cooking, poetry and hanging out with each other. “We enjoy combining things,” says Febo. “I feel like it’s something that’s been true in our work, is this power of 'and,' like versus 'or.' Like you don’t have to be a visual artist or a poet or a chef — you can be all of them.”
So they took to their kitchens. Febo fried plantains. Ricky made Cambodian corn. They shared their poetry with dinner parties full of friends. They took their show on the road, bringing their electric hot plates and poems to colleges and art centers in Rhode Island, Illinois and Indiana.
Now, it’s time for them to write a new recipe. This week, they’re artists in residence at the Boston Center for the Arts.
For Visual Arts Director Randi Hopkins, their concept was a great fit for the BCA's “Run of the Mills” residency. “We started a hybrid, very experimental program that combines visual art with movement,” she says. “We call it 'art that defies categorization,' and that has expanded in to a million directions.”
The program is in its fourth season. It’s a week-long takeover of an art gallery on the BCA plaza. Past artists have transformed it into a biology lab, an immersive movie set and a forest of birch trees.
Febo and Ricky’s vision is to turn the stark, white exhibit space into their version of “home.” They’ve warmed the place up with house plants and lamps, and Febo’s collection of Marvel action figures of color.
They’ve laid out the space with a living room, bedroom and garage, but it’s the kitchen that takes center stage. It’s where Febo is testing out how the rhythm and movement of chopping fits into the show — where they’re taking everyday motions like washing rice, and performing them.
It’s a work in progress. This week, they’ve thrown a series of small dinner parties — "housewarmings," they call them — where they’ve been feeding food to trusted friends and getting feedback.
This Saturday, they’re serving up their brand new show at the Boston Center for the Arts. Ricky is eager to see how the audience reacts. “How will you choose to leave full tonight?” he wonders. “Is it through the stomach? Are you gonna eat some of the food and feel good about that? Are you going to be asking yourself some questions, or thinking about things a little bit differently?”
In their food and poetry show, Febo and Ricky welcome you into their home. It’s on you to decide how you are fed.
This segment aired on February 8, 2019.
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