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​by Lindsay Anne Herring, Food Studies Master of Arts Candidate, Chatham University and Food Justice Intern, Contemporary Craft

Anna Metcalfe, Pop-up Pollinator Picnic, (detail) Installation, dimensions vary; .5”x6”x7” (one plate), Porcelain, glaze, transfer prints, wood, 2016-21. Photo: Guy Wagner

Xena Ni and Mollie Ruskin, Transaction Denied, mixed media, paper receipts, manila folders, audio clips, 2019

Michael Logan Woodle, Low on the Hog: Gravy Boat, 5”x9”x5”, sterling silver, copper, 2014.Photo: T.J. Roth

Holly Hanessian & Michael Austin Diaz, New Histories; The Gadsden Farm Project, 70”x30”x15”, digitally printed tablecloth, ceramic plates, photographs, seed bombs, alfalfa hay, and audio loop, 2019. Photo: Michael Austin Diaz

We all have our own story with food. Over the past year, many food inequalities and racial injustices were brought to light during the COVID-19 crisis. In Pennsylvania, 521,750 children are “food insecure,” lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Nearly 1 in 7 people in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, face chronic hunger and food scarcity. Here in Pittsburgh, our food story needs to include a fair and just food system — a system that works to overcome economic inequality, structural racism, food waste, and climate change. At Contemporary Craft, our food story is one of social engagement through art facilitation and conversation.

As a food studies graduate student at Chatham University, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Contemporary Craft in preparation for their newest exhibition, Food Justice: Growing a Healthier Community through Art, which explores the dimensions of national and regional food systems and the advocacy critically important for social change and community well-being. The exhibition features 18 works by 15 contemporary craft artists, working in traditional craft mediums such as glass, wood, fiber, clay and metals, while exploring relationships with photography, installation art, printmaking, sculpture and plants.

Through this show, Contemporary Craft aims to encourage and foster a deeper understanding of the food injustices that face people and the environment, not only throughout the US, but within our community. This work seeks to answer the question of how an arts organization can further serve the neighborhood it resides in. We are committed to partnering with local organizations and individuals to help create a continued conversation around food justice. By partnering with local organizations such as 412 Food Rescue, a group that reduces food waste and local hunger by rescuing viable food from restaurants and farms, we are deepening the impact art can have on life. While we know art alone won’t solve systemic injustices and economic inequities, we hope this exhibition will bring forth a unique dialogue that will drive us toward a collective solution.

The exhibition encourages viewers to engage with food in a unique and creative way, perhaps at times creating an environment that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Stirring up these emotions is an intentional part of the exhibition, as it creates a sensation to interact with a familiar subject in a new way.

Xena Ni and Mollie Ruskin’s Transaction Denied is a multimedia installation that looks at what happened when an upgrade to DC’s food assistance program (SNAP) left thousands of people without access to their benefits. The piece challenges viewers to think more critically about the programs themselves and how the government can do better.

Holly Hanessian and Michael Austin Diaz’s New Histories: The Gadsden Farm Project, presents the stories of 12 farmers from Gadsden County, Florida. Once the home to millionaires and a $100 million shade tobacco industry, Gadsden County is now the only Florida county with a majority Black population and is one of the poorest counties in the state. Hanessian and Diaz recorded the farmers’ stories, chronicling their perseverance, personal triumphs and obstacles. Each farmer was given a sweet potato pie as a welcome gesture, a letter, and a commemorative plate honoring their labor.

The exhibition opened on Sept. 10, 2021 and will be on view through March 19, 2022 at Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA. Contemporary Craft is a nonprofit whose mission is to engage the public in creative experiences through contemporary craft. To learn more about the Food Justice exhibition or other current exhibitions, visit their website.