Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Taking a bite out of Asia’s food culture

Posted by Kimberly on July 7, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
July 07 2007, page 13 (1,102 words)


Behind the unassuming façade of the woman, lies an artist wanting to leave an impression.
With her latest exhibition at Creative Macau, Rita Portugal is hoping viewers will walk away, not only with one of her paintings, but with a better understanding of what they consume on a daily basis.
“It’s about food and I wanted to focus on food because here in Asia you see food everywhere but at the same time everything is contaminated,” she says.
“Here you can see vegetables look very nice, everything’s really fresh but inside things you can see is with heavy metals and many things.
“I present the works like set menus. They’re like puzzles or compositions, playing with all those things, pollution and the different cultures.
“I present with real dried foods and resin, with printed fabric. Not everything is painting.
“I work on the computer and then I print it on fabric, then with acrylic I paint some parts to give more focus and emphasis. Then I put the resin to give that look where the food is very plastic, but everything’s colourful,” she says.
She compares the food cultures of Asia to Europe, the propensity for eating bugs, to that of consuming snails, with one culture thinking it a strange habit of the other.
“So it’s playing with food and the meaning is that nowadays you can do what you want, you can make it yourself.
“You can create potatoes or apples. You have those cherry tomatoes, the small ones, from the laboratory,” she says.
Despite the tone of her exhibition, Rita doesn’t consider herself a vegetarian, rather, choosing to eat cereals, vegetables and soy milk at home, and eating what is necessary when not given a choice.
“If I need beef, I eat beef. I can’t eat too much meat, maybe because I know where it comes from.
“I don’t like to say I’m vegetarian because I can eat everything,” she says.
This is reflected in her work, which ranges from four pieces of a puzzle, to the largest, sixteen pieces, with the exhibition holding fifteen pieces, the largest piece more a banquet than a main meal.
“I don’t know what people are going to think or feel but the thing I would want or like is for people to think before they consume.
“Because if they start to think about the problems it’s a way to change things, to pay more attention to what they buy and eat. To help to control the distribution,” she says.
Her style of work is quite eye-catching, the bright colours, an invitation to step closer and take a look.
She admits the colours are a reflection of her personality, but hardly gives much thought to which colours she uses until the final moment, when she steps back and thinks, “Oh yes, it’s colourful!”
Her technique has changed dramatically over the past few years but less so between her last exhibition in Macau, four months ago, and her current one.
“The thing in common [between the two exhibitions] was the technique, the printing fabric but not the resin. They [her previous works] were big huge canvases with 3D effects with metals and paper and more geometric.
“It was from old buildings and construction in Macau. Always I try and change every time,’ she says.
Prior to these exhibitions, her work tended to reflect a simpler approach.
“Everything was more plain, simple colours. I used to give the 3D shape with lines.
“Because I work all the time, I like to explore and observe everything around me, because I am always changing places.
“When I try to do a new work, the idea, the technique, everything is completely different because of the environment, the people and the architecture,” she says.
Rita started painting when she was fifteen, here in Macau but stopped when she went to university.
“I went to university to study sculpture and all those years I never painted.
“So I started panting again after graduation in 2004,” she says, adding that for her, it was a process of elimination.
“I wanted to be many things, but always around art like music or dance.
“But I started to eliminate things; music, no OK. Dance, no. OK.
“In the end I was working and quit my job and decided I wanted to become a full time artist at the end of university,” she says.
A challenging decision for most to make, let alone someone who has only “been doing his about three years.”
“Yes it’s difficult…but every year is better than the year before, so I just continue.
“It’s not easy but sometimes you have to make a choice.
“Sometimes you receive a lot of money but you have to organise yourself and find it hard to be inspired.
“Sometimes you don’t receive any sponsors or money or you don’t sell any piece. It’s not easy; no it’s not easy.
“Because you are always dependent on others,” she says.
Some might consider the small market in Macau to be a hindrance to their artistic aspirations, but Rita points out the positive and negative aspects.
“I think it’s worse in other places, like Portugal. Because in Portugal the market is huge like in England or France.
“Here in Macau you have many [artists] but I don’t feel that competition. Maybe because I have not been here so long, about five months and I feel here they are more friends and they help each other.
“[But] I think the worst part here is that it’s very small. It’s always like a circle.
“Here you have to go out with your work to other places in Asia because otherwise it’s always the same gallery, the same people,” she says.
Her plans to expand are starting to take shape but are still very much in the initial stages.
“Last year I did four exhibitions in one year but now I don’t have anything booked.
“I want time to try in Hong Kong, in Shanghai and other places, also in Australia. I want to try those markets.
“I think Macau is a very nice space, it’s very close and we have contacts from everywhere so I will try,” she says.
Those contacts include other local artists, whose experience she feels she can learn from.
“You can learn artist-to-artist but the best way is to talk not just to see the works or exhibitions but to talk and exchange opinions.
“They are here a longer time and each one has their own experience, so you can always learn,” she says.
Rita’s work will be exhibited at Creative Macau until July 27.


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