In the rush of the holiday season it can be easy to get caught up in the commercialization of the winter. However, the holidays are also the best part of the year to spend time with family, express gratitude, and look for ways to serve. For the past couple years, artist James Rees and wife Maribel have used the holiday season as a time to gather food and donations for Table to Table, a cause they care about—food shortages in Venezuela. “I’m from Venezuela,” explains Maribel. “I never really paid attention to it in the news because everything always seemed fine. Then we started hearing stories from family members about how bad it was getting.” Grocery shopping in Venezuela, Maribel’s family has found, involves long lines and empty shelves. More often than not even basic necessities can’t be found. Water shortages are also common, with running water only coming on for 24 hours every 10-12 days. Last year’s Table to Table fundraiser was a dinner at Guru’s Café in Provo, with 60 percent of proceeds going toward Venezuela. This year will be an art auction and chocolate tasting from Amano Artisan Chocolate’s head chocolate maker, Art Pollard.
Since beginning the Table to Table project the Rees family has sent 67 packages to Venezuela, each containing about 150 pounds of food. “When the packages arrive, the families don’t just keep them all for themselves,” Maribel says. “They share the food with neighbors and family members who live close by.” Emigration from Venezuela runs rampant as people attempt to escape their difficult circumstances. This means that many of those left behind in Venezuela are elderly, those who would not be able to find a job working elsewhere. The loneliness, Maribel has heard from her relatives, can be crushing. Coupled with the lack of food, receiving these types of packages is a huge help both psychically and emotionally for the people who receive them.
For the art auction, Rees is collaborating with Jesse Peterson to create limited-edition colored relief prints. The theme was easy—chocolate. “I am chocolate obsessed,” says Rees. “For about the last 10 years I have had a cup of hot chocolate every day for breakfast. There is nothing better than really good, high-quality chocolate.” The prints are simple, geometric, with a rough-cut feel. The print of a single cocoa bean especially captures the rough texture and complicated surface, paying homage to the intricately beautiful, natural shape.
In many Mesoamerican civilizations, cocoa was a popular drink, made by crushing the beans and mixing them with water. Most of the time cacao was bitter, maybe with the addition of cinnamon or vanilla, and in rare cases honey, to sweeten the drink. The cacao bean was incredibly significant in many Mesoamerican cultures because of the physical nature of their religion: rather than god being a far off, transcendent being, he was all around them, in maize, cacao, and each person. The Mayans and Aztecs even used cacao as a form of currency, demanding them as tributes from outlying regions. “That’s kind of what we are doing here,” Rees joked. “We are using chocolate and drawings of cocoa beans as a sort of currency so we can provide food for others.”
Art auctions and fundraisers are an important reminder that the arts have power to effect real social help. Artists like Banksy, Ai Wei Wei, Olafur Eliasson, and JR are world leaders in promoting global change through art, but at a local level artists can still be incredibly important to making the world a better place. As James Rees said during the interview, “When one artist works alone, they create art. When artists work together, they create change.”
The Table to Table Chocolate-tasting is Dec. 1 during the Provo Art Stroll at Here Gallery on Center Street from 6-9 p.m. It will include an art auction featuring work by Jethro Gillespie, Hekel Reece, Sunnie Bybee, Daniel Bartholomew, Brecken Cook, Katrina Berg, Diane Asay, Jolynn Jeppson, and Abigail Crandall. All proceeds will go toward the Table to Table project.
Hannah Sandorf Davis graduated with a degree in art history with a minor in visual arts from Brigham Young University.