African-American food traditions highlighted in unique New York art exhibit

To better understand the rich and expansive stories behind the meals created by African Americans and to offer insight into the immense breadth of African American food traditions and innovations, the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) in New York recently unveiled Afro-American: laying the table for the nation.

The exhibition is presented in the newly built house of The Africa Center at the Aliko Dangote Hall, at New York (1280 5th Avenue). Said to be a one-of-a-kind exhibit that celebrates the countless contributions of Black chefs, farmers, and food and beverage producers who have laid the foundations of American food culture—a recognition that is long overdue.

Afro-American: laying the table for the nation is ongoing until June 19, 2022.

“Across the globe, African customs have permeated societies, often in unknown or unrecognized ways,” said Uzodinma Iweala, CEO of The Africa Center in a press release.

Afro-American: laying the table for the nation comes after a two-year postponement due to the pandemic. The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) is a non-profit museum that is the world’s first large-scale food museum with exhibits you can eat.

Photo by Clay Williams. © Clay Williams

Afro-American: laying the table for the nation is an immersive take on the abundance of African American food traditions in the country, created and provided by Black Americans throughout 300 years of history. Dr. Jessica B. Harris – a culinary historian and author whose book High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America inspired the 2021 Netflix documentary series of the same name – curated the exhibit with insights from over 30 visionaries of the Black American culinary landscape.

“I have spent over four decades writing about African American food culture. Why? Because our story is on the plate. For that reason, we need to tell our story and tell it well. The Afro-American Exhibit Americans: Making the Nation’s Table is the first of its kind to reveal the depth and breadth of the contributions of African Americans to our nation’s food culture. Now is the time to celebrate, savor, and remember that the African-American food is American food,” Dr. Harris said in a press release.

Senior Curator, Dr. Jessica B. Harris. Photo by Angie Mosier

The centerpiece of the exhibit, the Legacy Quilt – illustrated by Adrian Franks, sewn by the Harlem Needle Arts quilt collective using vintage fabrics and featuring blurbs on each block by writer Osayi Endolyn – portrays, through traditions stitched together and interconnected across the Diaspora, space and time, a selection of hundreds of countless stories that deserve recognition.

According to MOFAD, the Legacy Quilt also includes an interactive, virtual experience where people can submit their own stories of African-American food heroes to add, emphasizing that those food stories aren’t over.

Visitors are then transported through four centuries of influence on agriculture, the culinary arts, brewing and distilling, and trade. The movement of people – whether enslaved Africans across the Atlantic or more than six million black Americans from the South to the North during the Great Migration is also the central theme of the exhibit.

Photo by Clay Williams. © Clay Williams

While the Legacy Quilt offers a breathtaking panorama, Ebony magazine’s test kitchen – saved from wreckage thanks to Landmarks Illinois curators and accessible to the public for the first time in history – offers an immersion in a specific institution (and its lively Afro-modernist aesthetic). representation of its historic moment) that has served as a culinary touchstone for more than two generations of African Americans.

Ebony Kitchen | Courtesy of MOFAD

Another central element of the exhibition is a dynamic digital interactive project that uses iconic dishes to unlock informative and animated cards. This feature replicates a dinner table, and by moving silverware, cups, and even food, users unlock stories about migration, cultural evolution, and the feeling of sharing a meal with friends and family. Invoking the complexities and movements, struggles and joys of these culinary stories through food, the exhibition also offers lunches in shoeboxes to go (available for an additional fee) – reminiscent of the meals that African travelers -Americans packed in shoeboxes during the Great Migration, when they were often denied service.

These tastings are crafted by renowned chefs such as Carla Hall, Adrienne Cheatham and Kwame Onwuachi, all advisors to the show.

“MOFAD produces exhibits and other public programs that help people better access their own history and the history of the people around them as manifested through food and drink. We are committed to collaborating with other New York City cultural institutions to give exposure to stories that may have been understated, untold, or erased in the sweep of history and the narrow narratives that dominate it – and to share these vital legacies in new and profound ways,” said MOFAD Chairman Nazli Parvizi.

MOFAD African/American tickets are available here.

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