On The Nose (Maya Barrera and Brianna Capozzi), Ethos, 2020. Shop the artists' plates from our Issue 19 story here.

Plates for the People

You can shop the custom plates from our Issue 19 dinner party feature right now on our web store, with all of the proceeds going to NYC mutual aid.

by Eileen Cartter
Nov 13 2020, 1:45pm

On The Nose (Maya Barrera and Brianna Capozzi), Ethos, 2020. Shop the artists' plates from our Issue 19 story here.

For GARAGE Issue 19, we commissioned artists Maya Barrera and Brianna Capozzi to create eight custom plate paintings—or “plaintings”—to accompany a dinner party-centric feature on the changing food world. The two friends began glazing together as On The Nose this past summer, as a mid-quarantine creative outlet and a means to hang out. During a ceramics session, they’d pass the plates back and forth, mashing up their favorite motifs (“I only want to draw cartoons and Maya wants to put angel wings on everything,” Capozzi says), often inviting friends to join in, resulting in a sort of idiosyncratic “exquisite corpse of glazing.” When Capozzi, a fashion photographer, shot their first round of plates on set after wrapping up another shoot, they decided to put them up for sale on Instagram and at a series of community sidewalk sales organized by their friend Aaron Wiggs, donating all of the proceeds. They’ve sold out each new drop ever since.

Not long after, Barrera, who also has her own studio practice, crossed paths with Andrew Ceneus and Craig Shepherd, two high school friends who, along with another friend Peter Kur, started a mutual aid organization called Food With Fam in the spring, sourcing and delivering groceries to New Yorkers in need. When I caught up with the four founders—Barrera, Capozzi, Ceneus, and Shepherd, calling together from Barrera’s ceramics studio—the story lines up with what seems like delightful trend in new community organizing throughout the pandemic: a mutual friend tapped Barrera to put together a few last-minute floral arrangements for a fundraising dinner party Food With Fam was hosting—one of their curated “family meals” cooked by a visiting chef, to raise money for the groceries effort.

“I show up and there's a real production happening at [our friend] Max’s house,” Barrera recalls later via email. “Andrew and Max discussing textiles for the tables. Craig working on organizing the logistics for that weekend's food distribution. Alida and Gabrielle from Yaya prepping and cooking a five-course meal, friends arriving to help serve the dinner and so on. Food With Fam has created a fully formed system that is specific to their goals surrounding mutual aid… Each individual is contributing their preferred skills to the greater whole, which makes the outcome that much more successful and interesting.”

Their latest family meal took place this past week on the breezy back patio of Cafe Erzulie in Bushwick. Under a clear sky, the meal featured mid-dinner performances by Duendita and Syl DuBenion, while visiting chef Nathanael Cox prepared plates of pepper shrimp with husk cherries, braised goat leg with garri and sour orange, and bowls of mushrooms and potatoes finished tableside with black mushroom broth poured from teapots.

As DuBenion noted during his set, the pandemic has been a particularly hard time for musicians—really, for artists and creatives in general. But there has also been a larger, more lovely side effect of this terrible year, amidst the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism: new projects and organizations, like Food With Fam and On The Nose, have cropped up to meet renewed desire to support local communities, which also tends to grow and strengthen those same communities. Friends are helping friends, and friends of friends, having fun and being resourceful along the way. Barrera, Ceneus, and Shepherd are all native New Yorkers, and for Barrera, making plates and donating money is “a contribution to people that are living in the city that is my home.” Shepherd adds, “It sounds so cliché, but I know we all probably heard ‘New York is dead,’ and I feel like New York is being so reborn right now.”

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Maya Barrera, Brianna Capozzi, Andrew Ceneus, and Craig Shepherd at the Food With Fam family meal at Cafe Erzulie. Photo by Danny Casteñada

Today, you can buy one (or more!) of the original On The Nose plates featured in the Issue 19 story on GARAGE’s web store, with all proceeds going to benefit Food With Fam.

Both projects, begun in light of the pandemic, are products of that “do what you can with what you've got” mentality—connected, figuratively and also sort of literally, by a desire to fill each other’s plates, to make sure everyone’s got enough.

Shepherd, whose day job is at a restorative justice nonprofit in Brooklyn, had been working in the spring to source grocery store gift cards, realizing “that the gift cards we were providing were to places like Key Food and Stop & Shop, and a lot of our people did not live near any of those chains.” That turned into a conversation with Ceneus and other friends along the lines of, “‘There's so many people in need. Can we rally together some funds to do this ourselves?’ And [this was] in April; a lot of people were feeling generous at that moment.” 

“That definitely helped for us, too, at the [sidewalk] sale,” Capozzi chimes in. “When that stopped, it slowed down.”

“I think [that was a time when people were feeling] very generous and giving,” Shepherd says. “Everyone, especially here in New York, we can all think back to what April sounded, smelled like.” After another round of fundraising, all within their community, they hooked Ceneus up with a Jetro membership (“Jetro is basically Costco on steroids”) to purchase $4,000 worth of food, giving out 250 bags of groceries at their friend's café in Bushwick. Soon, they reached out to chef friends to prepare hot food to distribute, receiving donations from restaurants and local farms and also hosting the family meals to fundraise and spread the word.

“Now it's like, I actually still love to do this, and I can help people doing it,” Ceneus says. “I think that's what is bringing people together. That's what brings us four together right now… This is not charitable work for us. This is not philanthropy. It's really just stepping in and trying to do work that is supposed to be done by the higher ups, but it’s not happening.”

“We know that we can get food and we know that people need food,” Shepherd adds. “Anything in between, we just keep ourselves open to whatever makes that possible.”

On The Nose