Artist Spot: Elizabeth Pamboukian
Elizabeth and I sat down in early March 2021 to talk about her project Rappers as Food, which began out of boredom in August of 2019. Elizabeth grew up in the outlying areas of Maryland, but being half-Chinese and half-Armenian, her upbringing wasn’t your classic suburban life. She traveled back and forth to China to visit her grandparents, practicing her language skills and learning about both Armenian and Chinese food. As a first-generation American, food was an important part of her childhood, linking her family’s past with her present. She embraces her culture and uses it as inspiration for her work.
Elizabeth describes herself as “an overall creative” and not necessarily as an artist. She explained to me how she “always was interested in doing art” which led her to convince her parents to let her go to art school. Having studied fashion marketing and business management with a minor in fashion journalism at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she never expected to keep up with Rappers as Food as “it was never meant to be.” It all started in the summer of her junior year. “I had just finished my internship and school hadn’t started yet. I was so bored” she tells me. “I saw a picture of Snoop Dogg and thought ‘wow, he kind of looks like a hot dog, he would be a good hot-dog’” and so she created Hot Snoop Dogg. She posted her first drawing on her personal Instagram account and got an influx of support, about “fifty replies” encouraging her to keep creating these pieces. “The second one was ASAP Rocky as ASAP Rocky-Road, and then the Notorious B.I.G. Mac” she says. All of these were posted on her personal story, but with further encouragement from friends, she created a second account just for her work. Although Elizabeth told me she didn’t feel like she had an “inspiring story” I believe she does! While exploring social media and seeing “small business” accounts, I encountered so many people who give up because they have no support. It’s inspiring to see that she's found that support and is fueled by it. She feels “so lucky to have encouragement, not just from my friends but even with my new Rappers as Food account. I’ve sort of built a community with people I don’t even know… they’re always DMing me suggestions.” Her community has grown as she has expanded onto Redbubble, created a merch line, and even uses TikTok to reach people across the world. One of her biggest fans is a young boy from the Philippines with whom she’s formed a special bond, “he’s one of my biggest fans, and even though I don’t know him, I love him.” Although Elizabeth doesn’t know everyone who follows her, she truly loves and appreciates all the suggestions and motivation, “it’s really a community.”
When I asked Elizabeth about her inspiration she explained how her upbringing is a big part of her work. Instead of following her family’s strict rules and listening to classical music, she tells me she listened to the “rebel in me... I wanted to listen to hip-hop.” She wanted to be “a bad-ass” and rap pushed it out of her. By “combining [her] two interests of rappers and food” she has found her unique voice as an artist, the places around her being used as inspiration. Classic American foods like burgers and hot dogs represent Maryland. Southern foods like mac ‘n’ cheese and waffles represent Savannah, and she represents Armenia through her collection “Stay Hye” where she created pieces like “Pomeangranate,” R-Mean as a pomegranate - a symbol of Armenia, and Snoop Dogg rolling dolma. She uses these pieces to bring awareness to the political conflicts in the country and provides resources in her rappersasfoods Instagram bio for people to educate themselves. Although she wants to create more “unique foods like Armenian foods and Chinese foods” she’s afraid that “no one will understand what that means.” Eventually, she hopes to get more “niche” but for now, it’s “all meant to be humorous, a lot of the time they are just quick things.”
Her pieces are “all about the pun,” she is inspired when eating something or listening to an artist’s music, always thinking “what food rhymes with their name?” Some are easier than others, but she uses tools like rhyming websites to help her. “ I just want to make people laugh,” she tells me. Although initially there wasn’t a “why” to her work, it has transformed into something with meaning and purpose. Elizabeth tries to give back to her community by working with charities. When I asked about her work, she explained, “So far I have done two, the first one I did was with Black Lives Matter… This was back in June when the protests started. So I felt it was a good time to really raise money… I am working with rap and hip-hop culture, and it is black culture, it doesn’t belong to me.” She wanted to help with the protests in any way she could. She asked people to write in the comments where they wanted their profits to be donated, “100% of their profits would go to the ACLU or a bail fund” of their choosing. She is still doing this, “with profits from that collection everything goes to whatever charity that you choose.” The second charity is the Armenia Fund where, like the BLM collection, “100% of the profits go to the Armenia Fund to support Armenians in general, there has been a lot of war ...and a lot of political tension.” Her work with charities focuses on raising awareness. She wishes she could do more and is continuously working on ways that she can help. For now, she focuses on creating fun content and using her voice when she can. Her goal is clear in these tumultuous times, “I want to put a little bit of humor in people’s everyday lives.”
If you want to see more of Elizabeth’s art, follow her on Instagram @rappersasfood or visit her website at rappersasfood.com