This holiday season, we've collaborated with Taiwanese American artist Felicia Liang to reimagine Norman Rockwell's iconic painting, "Freedom from Want." A painting that became a symbol of the traditional American holiday dinner, our rendition reflects the rich tapestry of today's multicultural American society and the various cultural influences that contribute to it.
“Freedom From Want" was part of a series of paintings inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union address, where Rockwell highlighted four values integral to American democracy: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of want, and freedom from fear. In “Freedom from Want,” Rockwell used a holiday dinner table to convey the abundance and unity Americans enjoy during peacetime.
Co-founder Olivia Chen fondly recalls encountering this painting during her childhood visits to a local McDonald’s. While she admired the artwork, it stirred conflicting feelings, making her question her sense of belonging in America despite being born and raised in the Midwest. The reason lay in the disparity between her own holiday dinners, which blended her Taiwanese-American heritage with American traditions, and the portrayal in the painting.
Motivated by a desire to bridge this gap, Olivia enlisted the talents of Taiwanese American artist, illustrator, and risograph printmaker Felicia Liang. Together, they embarked on a journey to reimagine "Freedom from Want," not as an idealized vision of the past, but as a reflection of today's America and the tapestry of diverse cultures that make it so great. The aim was to showcase the array of dishes that grace modern holiday dinner tables, celebrating the richness and variety that define our contemporary culinary landscape.
Q: Tell us about Norman Rockwell’s painting, Freedom From Want also known as The Thanksgiving Picture or I’ll Be Home For Christmas. What is so interesting about it and what inspired you to recreate it with an Asian American twist?
Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want” is an incredibly well known piece that’s been reimagined across multiple mediums since it was first published in the Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943 accompanied by a corresponding essay by Carlos Bulosan. Truthfully, the painting itself doesn’t quite resonate with me and my lived experience as a Taiwanese American. However, I found the story behind the piece and accompanying essay to be interesting.
Bulosan was a Filipino labor activist, farmworker, and novelist who wrote a powerful piece critiquing the hostile systems and inequity he was up against as an immigrant worker. Rockwell was concerned his work didn’t match Bulosan’s words and tone, but he was pressured to get it done for publication. Bulosan and Rockwell both became well known for their respective works for this.
The fact that a Filipino immigrant worker’s words were associated with Rockwell’s famous piece surprised me. While their messages were incongruous, I think the backstory with Bulosan in particular is emblematic of what it’s like to experience racism and to feel “othered” in America. And with this recreation of Rockwell’s work in collaboration with Twrl Milk Tea, I hope that by infusing our perspectives as Asian Americans, we’re a small part in breaking the dominant narrative of white and western culture in today's art and food world.
Q. What excites you about your "Freedom From Want" re-creation? What do you hope people get out of your re-creation and what emotional response do you hope it evokes?
This re-creation includes my paternal grandparents, and is especially meaningful for me since my grandpa passed away last year. We’ve had banquet meals and large family gatherings with them in Taiwan over the years, but never really celebrated major American holidays with them. It was an interesting mashup of imagined experiences and nostalgia put into this piece.
When I think of spending time with family and special occasions, our gatherings always center around food. I hope people resonate with the warm and comforting feeling of family, biological or chosen, and the privilege of sharing a meal together, especially one as abundant as the one depicted.
Q. What inspires you as an artist? What are markers of your work that identify it as Felicia Liang art?
Inspiration is a funny thing since it never comes when it’s expected. It sounds cliche, but I’m just inspired by where I live, who I interact with, the books and movies I watch, and whatever is on my mind. These all kind of get channeled into whatever I create, sometimes subliminally too.
A lot of my work includes intricate linework and lots of colors, and I love having a ton of components put into one piece in a seemingly chaotic sort of organization. My works often also include words, either as journal entries or as a legend, as a way to communicate with the viewer and my way of just documenting everything.
Regarding subject matter, my current body of work is strongly tied to my Taiwanese American identity, love of food, and exploring the world. A major throughline is that I want to create works that I want to see more of, works that represent my lived experiences, and works about things I think are important. I try to be mindful of this with all the work I do, from my products, to personal pieces, and to client work too if it allows for it. If what I make can make the viewer feel something, or see things in a different way, then I’ve done my job.
Join Our Journey
Twrl Milk Tea is on a mission to reshape the image of an American brand. As a company founded by Asian American women, we represent a fresh wave of startups embodying diverse backgrounds and cultures while remaining distinctly American.
This collaboration with Felicia Liang sums up what Twrl Milk Tea is all about—changing up the image of the American brand by embracing diversity, highlighting different cultures, and forming a more inclusive story in art and food. We're not about sticking to the status quo. Instead, we want to embrace the mix of cultures that shape the diverse landscape of today's America. So, come along on our journey as we refresh the idea of what being American looks like.