30-foot quilt depicts Black influence on American food
The Legacy Quilt at the new exhibit, "Making the Nation's Table," illustrates Black people's impact on American cuisine.
The new exhibit African/American: Making the Nation’s Table will run from February 23 to June 19, 2022, at the Aliko Dangote Hall at the Africa Center at The Museum of Food and Drink on 5th Avenue in New York City.
A highlight of the exhibit is a nearly 14-foot tall and 30-foot wide art piece called the Legacy Quilt made of 406 tiles that illustrate the impact Black people have made on American cuisine. Additionally, the exhibit features the installation of the psychedelic, 1970s state-of-the-art kitchen that once belonged to Ebony Magazine, which was rescued in 2018 by Landmarks Illinois, as well as an immersive virtual reality theater.
“African American contributions to our nation’s culinary culture are foundational and ongoing,” the museum writes. “For over 400 years, African Americans have inspired our country’s food through their skill, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Black foodways have shaped much of what we farm, what we cook, what we drink, and where we eat.”
“We’re in a few thousand square feet and we’re trying to tell 400 years of history. How do we do that?” Catherine Piccoli, the museum’s curatorial director, told The Washington Post about the process of assembling the exhibit. “We discussed early on the concept of a quilt — since quilts are so deeply rooted in African American culture — being part of the exhibition, and as we continued to talk about the quilt it became the sort of holding place, if you will, for telling as many stories as we could.”
The exhibit’s lead curator is Dr. Jessica B. Harris, who is the author of 12 critically acclaimed books and was recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Hall of Fame. Dr. Harris is considered the world’s preeminent expert on food of the African diaspora.
Harris was recently featured on the Netflix series High on the Hog, which explored African food tradition and is based on one of Harris’ books of the same name.
The exhibit kicked off near the end of Black History Month and will end on Juneteenth. According to The Washington Post, the show was supposed to open in 2020 but was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic and other world events.
“I think clearly living in the post-George Floyd, post-COVID world, post all of the litany of names that we are now aware of, has made people more sensitized and more open to hearing about actually how foundational African Americans have always been in the creation not only of American food but in the creation of American culture,” Harris told The Washington Post.
“It’s a no-brainer in terms of music. It’s a no-brainer in terms of dance. Arguably, it’s a no-brainer in terms of popular culture and fashion, but in terms of food people hadn’t really thought it through. So I think this is now enjoining people to maybe have that thought as well,” Harris added.
For those unable to attend the event in person, there is a Legacy Quilt Project online. “With this ongoing digital quilt,” said Harris, “we are now able to, as people find folks and as people propose folks, to update and continue the quilt. And so it becomes an ongoing process that really reflects that history is not static.”
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