Sarah’s bottle with tropical plants

My bottle composition is based on tropical plants familiar to me throughout my childhood growing up in South Florida. These plants have always felt native to me, or at the very least encompassed the spirit of living in a tropical place surrounded by water and lush flora.

As I grew older, I began to understand how many of these plants were also meaningful to my family’s cultures. Bananas are essential in my Puerto Rican culture, as we use the banana leaves to wrap our pasteles for Christmastime. On the Cuban side of my family, we would always eat tachinos, or tostones, made from green plantains. My Puerto Rican grandmother also has a mango tree, and we would eat those as refreshing snacks during mango season in the summer. Plants like bougainvillea and bird of paradise plants were always draped around her house. Tropical plants, bright and richly hued in shades of green, red, and purple – these plants have always felt familiar to me. I would always see philodendrons, bromeliads, elephant ears, and so much more.

Ever since I moved to Chicago I realized that I lost that connection. For example, in South Florida, not only did I know about tropical fruit trees, but also about the ocean and waterways. Most folks understood the ocean tides, weather, fishing in saltwater versus freshwater, and could identify many of the fish and wildlife. Similarly, it was completely normal for people to have mango and avocado trees, and my cousin even had a starfruit tree. When I moved north, I would ask folks about the local fish or trees, and wonder why the lake was so exclusive. Not only do I miss the colors and textures of lush foliage, but I also miss the culture around knowing and celebrating the local plants and water.

My bottle reminds me of this lost knowledge and connection. I want to communicate these plants as my own native plants, and I want to ensure that this connection and knowledge to plants and water should be preserved and passed on. This art piece is a step towards that social pollination.