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Louisa Chu Attends Artful Soul Food Dinner

Greens and cornbread from the Feast-related dinner.

Greens and cornbread from the Feast-related dinner.Photo: courtesy Louisa Chu

Last week we posted our thoughts on the Feast exhibit at the Smart Museum, and although we found it to be a mixed bag, we nevertheless recommend checking it out to anyone who thinks about food (and wants to see how non-foodies think about it). One of the things we mentioned that struck us as interesting was the series of soul food dinners being planned in conjunction with it. This week Louisa Chu reports back from the first of those dinners, put on by artist Theaster Gates, soul food expert Erika Dudley and chefs Michael Kornick and Erick Williams. And it does sound like one of the more interesting and provocative sides of the overall Feast exhibit:

I asked Dudley what foods she felt had to be served. First and foremost, watermelon, she said. She's served it in one form or another—including pickled rind—in every soul food dinner she's hosted. "So many black people have told me they're afraid to eat watermelon in front of white people," said Dudley, "and we can't be afraid."

The point of the dinner is not just food, but the meanings and rituals of gathering at the table. Japanese themed pottery was used because "it's simply valuing food at such a high level that you're making a utensil to honor it," according to Gates. That was in keeping with the theme of this dinner, The Art of Soul; each of the four dinners has its own theme, including The History of Soul, The Politics of Soul and The Community of Soul. Could these dinners lead to a soul food business that tried to have the same level of ritual and community? That thought is on the mind of Michael Kornick at the end. Perhaps this short series of dinners will lead to something longer-lasting.

Ritual soul food dinner [WBEZ]

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