Bernardo Medina’s mother chased him into art with a foam rubber flip-flop.
“Latin moms call it a chancleta,” says Medina, a pop artist and publicist based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “It’s the weapon they use against you when you were a kid. I was very hyper and since there was no medicine for it, it was my mum’s slipper.
As a boy in the rural northern coastal town of Hatillo, Medina knocked down a porcelain sheep and shepherd from his mother’s prized Lladró nativity scene, and Medina’s older sister Millie pronounced him dead. “My sister said to me, ‘She’s going to kill you physically,’ so I ran outside and climbed a breadfruit tree.” Medina’s mother posted herself at the base, slipper in hand, and he was only spared the wrath of the chancleta after his father pleaded for clemency.
His parents thought they had found a productive outlet for this kind of forceful “carelessness” by enrolling him in an art class, where he produced his first bodegón, a simple still life of an apple and a book. . But soon Medina also began to disrupt the class, rendering the fruit in impossible patterns and colors, eventually painting entirely imaginary varieties.
Medina, now 60, continues to create wild bodegóns, some of which hang for a few more days in Humboldt Park at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. “The Sofrito Manifesto” is a pop-up exhibition featuring 62 photographs from Medina’s expansive 250-page tribute to the cuisine of his late abuelas. It’s a big bilingual tome the size of a coffee table filled with recipes and stories from her sister Emilia, aka Millie; it’s all illustrated with stunning food photography, paintings, and tear-off posters rendered in Medina’s signature style, which he calls “Jibarito Pop.”
On the island, no one thinks of Chicago’s signature plantain sandwich when the word “jibarito” is invoked. Medina has never heard of it, let alone eaten it. The word originally means “little hick” and in most circles it’s a pejorative, unless you’re Medina, who has come to adopt it as a “reaffirmation of the pride and beauty of my roots”.
Medina is the president of Kroma, the commercial marketing agency he founded 20 years ago after a career bouncing between the island, New York, Connecticut and Luxembourg.
As an undergraduate theater student at the University of Puerto Rico, “I was very drawn to musicals,” he says. “I want to produce shows and make money, and to my classmates, I was extremely capitalist. So I had no place there. And then I studied business and in college I was a hippie. Getting into the art and defining Jibarito Pop has been a process of self-discovery, struggling with my peers, my colleagues and myself.
Medina has exhibited his works in New York, Madrid, Havana, Miami, San Juan and now Chicago, where “The Sofrito Manifesto” is suspended until August 13, after which it moves to New York, Boston, Miami and DC .
It launched in early June with a range of frituras prepared by Janellie’s Kitchen: “all fried foods”, including tostones, bacalaitos, empanadillas, sorullitos, piononos and alcapurrias – plantain fritters stuffed with beef whose Sofrito Manifesto The recipe is illustrated with a series of photos of a lovely designer-dressed couple foreshadowing an adventure in an antique hotel suite with this iconic street food.
“You don’t eat alcapurrias in this environment,” Medina explains. “It’s not made with caviar. It’s made with ground beef by a grandmother.
None of her grannies ever cooked from recipes, but they cooked all day, every day, with produce they grew themselves. On the maternal side in particular, Abuela Inés Alonso Montijo was cooking farm-to-table long before it was a marketing concept, for example, scraping a garden coconut and extruding its milk, instead of buying a box for the jiggly pudding known as tembleque.
“The Sofrito Manifesto”
Until August 13
The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture
3015 West Division
“She was doing everything with her bare hands and her brain,” Medina explains. “It was a lot of code words.” “Un poquito de sal” for a pinch of salt; “a sal chinchin” for a smaller pinch.
Medina and her sister wrote 50 recipes based on their abuelas’ cooking, combing through boxes of notes, clippings and memorabilia, and sitting at kitchen tables with cousins and aunts. in Hatillo.
Medina mustered all the powers of his PR firm and assembled and printed 2,000 copies, of which about 500 remain. He titled it for the diverse seasoning base of Puerto Rico’s food (and the most of Latin America). “Sofrito is an alliance of six ingredients: garlic, culantro, coriander, onions, sweet and hot peppers”; they are disparate elements that form the basis of a dish, in the same way that different media make up the book.
After “The Sofrito Manifesto” closed, Medina returns to Chicago this fall to collaborate with artist Josue Pellot and design studio 408 Fabrication on an outdoor mural somewhere on Pulaski Avenue in Hermosa. In the meantime, he is working on The Sofrito Manifesto 2: Cocktails, Beverages and Beverages, the second in a series of planned volumes and an epic undertaking by Jibarito Pop driven as much by its sense of capitalism as its sense of home. “My son wants to be an oncologist,” he says. “He will study for ten years. This book and the eight others I’m producing are how I’m going to raise the damn half a million dollars to call my son Dr. Medina.