Behind the Scenes: RECLAMATION

Blog Category:  NMWA Exhibitions
A black-and-white photograph of two women and two girls, all with medium-dark skin tones, together at a dining table set for dinner. A lamp hangs over the table and a mirror hangs on a wall behind them. The woman on the left is standing, while the other three sit at the table.

RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals is an evolving online exhibition that examines food as a creative medium for visual art and a connective tool for intergenerational and intercultural experiences. It features interdisciplinary artists making use of their own kitchens; their work is presented alongside recipes, stories, and images submitted by the public.

A view from over the shoulder of a medium-dark skinned girl baking at a counter that showcases a wide array of baking ingredients. She scoops chunks of butter into an empty, shiny, silver bowl, and wears earrings and a yellow shirt with sleeves rolled up.
Melani N. Douglass, 8 and Baking 02, 2021; Digital Photograph; Courtesy of the artist; © Melani N. Douglass

Before COVID-19, Reclamation was conceived as an intimate, participatory, in-person exhibition surrounding the built elements of a kitchen, a complement to our Women, Arts, and Social Change (WASC) public programs initiative. But as the seismic shifts of the pandemic brought about a new normal, we realized that an in-person exhibition would not be possible. Instead, we began reenvisioning Reclamation as an online experience. During the pandemic, so much of our focus has been on the home, our kitchens, and the ways we nourish ourselves and loved ones. Conversations shifted to food access, safety, ritual, and comfort. In-person or online, this content was not only relevant, it was central.

As I sought to invite a group of artists into the project, I chose to focus on their methods instead of mediums, asking myself one primary question: are they good storytellers? I was looking for visual griots—artists who weave stories into their work, whose processes are just as creative as their final products, and whose work is informed by daily living and social change.

This formula led us to an interdisciplinary cadre of creatives: djassi daCosta johnson and Sharayna Christmas are dancers who continue traditions they have learned through mentorships and intergenerational friendships. Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz and Tsedaye Makonnen pull from their rich heritages to tell stories about family and community history through performance and sculpture. Chef Jenny Dorsey, a former ceramicist, creates virtual reality dinners. Lauren Von Der Pool is a vocalist and celebrity raw and vegan chef. Aletheia Hyun-Jin Shin and I both produce socially engaged projects. Maggie Pate, a fiber artist, uses food waste to create dyes.

My prompt to these visual artists, dancers, chefs, socially engaged artists, and sculptors was simple: to see the kitchen as the studio and the table as the site for art-making, anchored in nourishment. Everyone produced time-lapses, videos, and pictures. I asked, What happens there? Who shares this space with you? What’s behind the scenes? In a pandemic, how does your creativity in the kitchen hold you together? How does art balance the acid of the times?

The artists answered with widely varied creations—Von Der Pool created lush and celebratory scenes of herself adorned with abundant food, Raimundi-Ortiz documented making Puerto Rican food for her in-laws, and johnson shared intimate scenes of a dinner party, nail-painting, and tea-making. Pate mentions that during the pandemic, people have expressed interest in natural dyes just as they have in making sourdough bread, paying homage to home traditions. Together, the artists’ work channels the power that can be found in kitchens, elevating nourishment and daily life to art that expresses dignity, vulnerability, freedom, and connection.

RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals leads a year-long season of programming that examines the relationship between food, art, and women as part of the Women, Arts, and Social Change initiative at NMWA.

Related Posts