VMPA Senior Thesis

Celeste M. Rodriguez



Celeste M. Rodriguez is a Puerto Rican-American artist born and raised in Camden, NJ. Her work ranges from painting, drawing and collage. She uses distorted figures and environments showcasing interpretations of personal identity. She is currently investigating painting and drawing methods, collecting found objects, and destroying materials.   

Rodriguez’s work has been shown locally in venues such as Camden Fireworks Art Gallery, Woodmere Art Museum, and The Campus Gallery at Rutgers University-Camden. She received the Bruce Garrity Junior Painting award and the Visual, Media, and Performing Arts Service award from Rutgers University-Camden. Her art studio is based in the Camden Fireworks Art Gallery in Camden, New Jersey. She is currently an undergraduate majoring in Painting at Rutgers University-Camden. 


My thesis examines the combination of cultural differences stemming from my upbringing in a Puerto Rican household in New Jersey, juxtaposed with my family’s roots in Puerto Rico. Unbinded by traditional forms of painting, I continuously experiment through intertwining painting, drawing, and collaging found/recycled objects. My focus is memory  infused with rice and beans. My culinary heritage is emblematic of my memories of home cooked meals and family gatherings

Rice is a staple crop that has sustained the land and part of the cultural tradition that is weaved with the identity of the people of Cayey and Puerto Ricans in the U.S. I utilize rice to shape the iconic peaks of Los Tetas de Cayey, two mountains that dominate the landscape of Cayey. Moss, black beans, coffee, and gandules are added to resemble the lush foliage and fertile soil in Cayey. I also draw upon the legacy of the Taino culture, whose indigenous roots run deep in Puerto Rico’s soil. The traditions and symbols serve as a reminder of Puerto Rico’s complex history. The red beans of Necesitamos el Guey y el Ama’ are arranged into the shapes of the Taino sun and water symbols, elements that stand for life, sustenance, and growth. 

To embody the exploration of my heritage, belonging, and cultural identity, I blended the imagery of the American and Puerto Rican flag. This fusion, Boricua Americana, expresses the historical ties between both lands and Puerto Rico’s struggle for autonomy. Additionally, I combined the flags of Camden City and the mountain town of Cayey to reflect the interconnectedness and shared values that unite both cities across cultural divisions, La Invencible Cuidad del Toro. The bull is a potent emblem that evokes the indomitable spirit of both cities. In Cayey, the bull is associated with the strength of the agricultural workforce that sustains the island. In Camden, the bull has come to show the pioneering spirit of the city, whose history is deeply rooted in the manufacturing industry.  

Through fusing imagery, symbolism, and mediums, I bring memories and traditions, highlighting Puerto Rican and American identities and indigenous culture legacy.