Browsing through the r/trippingthroughtime subreddit, you’ll sometimes find posts pointing to this particular painting:
A glance might lead most to believe that this is a Renaissance painting, but this is actually a painting called “Okra Smugglers” by contemporary Polish/American artist Henryk Fantazos, painted in 2007. That’s right, I busted you karma whores on r/trippingthroughtime. Fantazos is still very much alive, and you can view his paintings on his website.
How did I know he is alive? Well, I emailed him and got a reply. Scroll down to the very bottom if you wanna see the reply.
Anyway, there are other clues to this being from the modern era. The man on the left wears clothing made out of an accordion — which was invented in 1822 — and the very same man wearing a fedora and wristwatch — both only becoming popular in the early 20th century.
Though, the resemblance to Renaissance paintings isn’t a coincidence. Fantazos considers himself a Proto-Renaissance painter, and also uses Egg tempera, a technique used primarily in European medieval and early renaissance paintings. He talks about using egg tempera for its vivid colours here.
In his blog, Fantazos argues that an “artist’s task is to give [a] portrait of the world. … An artist has to prove that his enamoration and profound knowledge of the world qualifies him to deserve the special position in society.” A stance also taken by Renaissance painters who painted from reality and the visible world.
Fantazos had moved to and lived in Southern America, and from there worked elements of the south into each of his paintings. “Okra Smugglers” is part of the “Face of the South” collection, a series of paintings dedicated to capturing its beauty.
But obviously, Fantazos’s paintings are anything but realistic.
In each painting lives a world that is obviously set in our own, except containing fantastical and surreal elements. By grounding the roots in reality, the fantastical elements provide a striking contrast to provide a new perspective on real life. Often, paintings like this reveals hidden meanings about our society, or to give some sort of political critique.
This mix of the real and fantasy is also a literary genre called Magical Realism, which grew popular in the 1950s, especially in Latin-America. The subject of Magical Realism is better explored in this particular video by Screened:
But to go back to our question:
Why is Okra being poured into this woman’s pants? Fat boi’s take.
If we were to view Fantazos’s painting in the lens of Magical Realism, then we also have to ask: what is the metaphor or hidden meaning to be found in this painting? Why is the woman giving such a vague smile, while gazing so mysteriously into the watcher’s eyes?
Smuggling Okra is obviously, an absurd idea. The harvested vegetable doesn’t need to smuggled, much less by stuffing into people’s panties. (insert ladies finger joke here)
In a bit of a misguided curiosity, the Fat Boi went on to research about the vegetable Okra. You see, Okra isn’t native to America. The plant was introduced through the slave trade and became commonplace by the 19th century. African food plantations were established to feed the captives of the transatlantic slave trade.
In our current times, Okra takes a central place in Southern American cuisine, being used in soups, stews or simply fried. The word, “Okra”, came from the Igbo word, ọ́kụ̀rụ̀. For how that is pronounced, you can check out the timestamp 2:44 in my video.
Western African okra dishes transformed into the dish gumbo, which is also the word for Okra in the Congo and Angola area of Africa.
Then in 1808, the import of slaves was banned by Congress, but this didn’t stop smugglers from continuing to do so illegally.
So, if we were to look at Fantazos’ painting as an allegory of the South’s history, where the Okra is a representation of African slaves, does this mean that the painting is saying “slavery should kiss my ass”?
The Artist’s Answer
After pondering about the painting on my own, I decided I might as well just email Fantazos for an answer.
That’s right. Turns out paintings are sometimes just giant memes or shitposts. Fantazos painted okra being poured into the woman’s pants, with a Ricky lookalike to her right and an accordion suit-man asking them to hurry up, just because the image came to him.
In a separate interview, he had said a similar thing. He’ll have a vision, and just paints it while trying not to think of it as too weird or irrational.
But what I think is happening here is that Fantazos simply wants us to look at paintings as paintings. Think about it. paintings and words are separate mediums. Is a masterpiece painting going to be explainable using words? If it can be described by words, then what is the point of painting rather than just throwing words on a paper?
If those questions tickled your brain and you want more, NerdWriter1 has an intriguing discussion on The Treachery of Images here:
Or if you want something more from Fantazos, consider his blog. A particular blog post discusses about symbols versus representation, which makes for a very intriguing discussion on art versus words.