Foodways: Artists and Museums are Embracing the Cultural, Creative and Convivial Aspects of the Culinary Experienceby Victoria L. Valentine on Aug 23, 2016 • 2:05 pm 1 Comment
AFRICAN AMERICANS have a storied history with food. Published last September, “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks” seeks to tamp down “the demeaning stereotype of an illiterate ‘Aunt Jemima’ who cooked mostly by natural instinct” by emphasizing the contributions women of African descent have made to America’s food culture for centuries. Their impact is documented by presenting more than 150 black cookbooks dating back to 1827. “The Jemima Code” has been celebrated by chefs and the publishing industry, winning a James Beard Foundation Book Award, the Art of Eating Prize, and an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.
The volume comes amid America’s obsession with food culture, which is gaining traction in the art world and being embraced by artists and museums. The phenomena has emerged in a variety of ways, from chef-curated culinary experiences and public programming focused on health and nutrition, to being the subject of exhibitions exploring food history and culture.
Over the past couple of years, major new art museums have debuted including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, The Broad museum in Los Angeles, and the re-opening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, presenting elevated dining options alongside fine art.
The forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has made its restaurant a priority, but rather than offering chef-focused haute cuisine, it will offer visitors a dining experience that is grounded in the history, culture and traditions explored in the museum. NMAAHC’s cultural galleries will feature a foodways exhibition focused on three U.S. regions—the North, agricultural South, and Creole South, encompassing cuisine from New Orleans and diaspora Caribbean communities. Envisioned with consultation from chef Carla Hall, a “Top Chef” alum, co-host of “The Chew,” restauranteur, and cookbook author, the museum’s restaurant will reflect these three geographic areas and also focus on the barbecue traditions of the West.
“We wanted to break up the idea that there’s one type of food, and that African Americans all eat that type of food,” curator Joanne Hyppolite told the Washington Post. “African Americans have been involved in perfecting a number of American cuisines. Because literally, they were always in everyone’s kitchen. It’s way more diverse than soul food.”
“We wanted to break up the idea that there’s one type of food, and that African Americans all eat that type of food.”
— NMAAHC Curator Joanne Hyppolite, The Washington Post
THE STUDIO MUSEUM in Harlem recently explored the intersection of food and art in an exhibition featuring, “Untitled (Dinners)” by Carris Adams, a text painting that transitions from bold black lettering to a muted pink and yellow palette spelling out “Chitterlings & Oxtails Dinners.” This spring, “Palatable: Food and Contemporary Art,” presented the ways in which artists consider memory, heritage, politics, and culture through food. Programming for the exhibition included a brunch panel discussion presented with Art In FLUX Harlem. Moderated by Studio Museum Assistant Curator Hallie Ringle, the participants included artist Miguel Luciano, whose work appeared in “Palatable”; Hannah Bronfman, founder of Seed Street; Anahi Angelone, owner and operator of Corner Social restaurant in Harlem; and chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson of The Cecil’s in Harlem.
Bronfman’s Seed Street states that “its mission is to provide equal access to fresh, healthy, and local food by transforming freight containers into highly efficient hydroponic farms.” The Seed Street blog reported on the discussion:
“Our panelists shared in the sentiment that food in the 21st century is deeply rooted as both an art and an experience; although its manifestation in our lives today can feel very contemporary, our food tastes and preferences in fact draw directly from our shared family and cultural histories. As Hannah summarized after the panel, ‘by aligning with this influential group of food enthusiasts who are all interested in unique ways of bringing food back to its roots, we can influence a young urban community and be leaders in helping our youth to make life-long healthy connections to food.'”
“Our panelists shared in the sentiment that food in the 21st century is deeply rooted as both an art and an experience; although its manifestation in our lives today can feel very contemporary, our food tastes and preferences in fact draw directly from our shared family and cultural histories.”
— Seed Street blog
In London, artist Yinka Shonibare‘s Guest Projects offers a one-month residency for artists. The program includes The Artist Dining Room, a supper club “where creative minds can engage with the ideas of a well known artist through food. A Guest Chef is invited to collaborate for each dinner to create a tailor made menu exploring the fundamental, social and intellectual content of the artist’s work, which is reflected through the courses of the meal. A Guest Host is also invited to lead the evening through installations and performance surrounding the themes of the dinner.” In October, The Artist Dining Room will celebrate the work of Sophie Calle and in December, the work of Kara Walker will be considered.
Inaugurated in January on Captiva Island in Florida, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s chef-in-residence program focuses on preparing healthy meals for artists-in-residence. Shuna Lydon, the first chef to hold the position, told the New York Times that the most rewarding part of the job is “listening to and interacting with artists from a myriad of practices” and seeing how they all “think and work differently.” Four days a week, Lydon prepares two meals serving up to 25 people for lunch (foundation staff and artists) and about 10 or so for dinner, which is reserved for resident artists who have included David Hartt and Meleko Mokgosi.
Artist Yinka Shonibare’s The Artist Dining Room in London will explore the work of Kara Walker in December. | From left, Yinka Shonibare at unveiling of his ‘Wind Sculpture’ on Howick Place, London, Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie, Stringer; Kara Walker in 2015 at MoMA Party in the Garden in New York, Photo by Lars Niki, Contributor. Both courtesy Getty Images
AS INSTITUTIONS CONSIDER what next generation museums should look like and evaluate their programming and determine how to diversify and expand their audiences, the intersection of food and culture has proven to be a winning recipe for the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco.
At MoAD, its new chef-in-residence program emphasizes public engagement around issues related to food, health, and farming in the local community. The initiative involves artists, curators, chefs, farmers, scholars and writers, and is lead by Byrant Terry, the museum’s first chef-in-residence.
A chef and vegan cookbook author, Terry says he has been a food justice advocate since 1992 when he heard the KRS-One lyrics to the Boogie Down Productions song “Beef” about the negative impact of factory farming on animals, human health and the environment. Shortly thereafter, he stopped eating meat. In 2002, he founded b-Healthy (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth), an initiative aimed at educating New York City youth about healthy food choices through lessons about cooking and gardening. He was a Food and Society Policy Fellow at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (2008-2010). More recently, Terry received a 2015 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and gave a talk at TEDMED, a special event focused on shaping a healthier world. He was named chef-in-residence at MoAD in September 2015.
“Black Women, Food & Power,” the first event Terry organized at MoAD, convened scholars, cookbook authors and activists, including Toni Tipton Martin, author of “The Jemima Code,” for a discussion about the historic and contemporary role of black women in food production, distribution, and consumption.
In December, he collaborated with The People’s Kitchen Collective to host a Diaspora Dinner in the lobby of the museum. Described as a highly interactive, multi-sensory experience, the celebratory dinner featured a menu spanning generations and continents served family style, paired with live music, visual art, storytelling, and after-dinner dancing.
Chef-in-Residence Bryant Terry hosted a Diaspora Dinner in the lobby of the museum. Described as a highly interactive, multi-sensory experience, the celebratory dinner featured a menu spanning generations and continents served family style, paired with live music, visual art, storytelling, and after-dinner dancing.
In June, there was “Food From Across Africa,” a talk and book signing with The Groundnut, a South London-based collective of three African European chefs—Duval Bankole, Timothy and Folayemi Brown—who host a supper club, stage pop-up dinners and recently published The Groundnut Cookbook.
Last week the museum hosted a screening of Terry’s TED talk, which is titled “Stirring Up Political Change from the Kitchen.” In the presentation, he talks about about the power of food memories, lauds the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program, and emphasizes his mantra for establishing healthy, just and sustainable food systems: “start with the visceral to ignite the cerebral and end at the political.”
His two-year tenure at the museum includes partnering with schools in San Francisco and Oakland. Replicating his activities with young people in New York, he goes out to the schools and cooks vegan meals with students, talks with them about how food choices affect health, responds to their questions and teaches them about the history of food of the African diaspora, beyond traditional soul food.
In the video below, Terry shares his food philosophy, the importance of the museum’s programming, and his hopes for scaling it elsewhere to broaden its impact:
“One of my hopes is that the model we create here can be replicated in other institutions, other museums, faith-based communities, workplaces, schools, I think having a chef-in-residence, having someone whose solely dedicated to thinking about food in these various aspects can really be powerful because we all eat. Food is the primal desire that connects us all. and we all should be concerned about the way that our food is produced, distributed and consumed and I am really excited about creating a model for the way that we can do that.” CT
IMAGES: TOP, 1912 tinted postcard depicting a banana and pineapple vendor. On the back of it is a handwritten note: “don’t forget / the place / Bradentown / Fla.” | Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; ABOVE LEFT, CARRIS ADAMS, “Untitled (Dinners),” 2013 (oil and acrylic on canvas). | Courtesy the artist via Studio Museum in Harlem
A groundbreaking exploration of African American cookbooks dating back to 1827, “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks” by Toni Tipton Martin documents the contributions of black women to American food and culture for generations. The Groundnut Collective has captured their imaginative, cross-culltural approach to food in The Groundnut Cookbook. Chef Carla Hall, a consultant to the Smithsonian’s African American museum recently authored, “Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World.” Finally, chef Bryant Terry has published four books, including “Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed” his most recent, “The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus,” as well as “Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine,” and “Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen,” which he co-authored.
Meet Chef-in-Residence Bryant Terry | Video by Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco