"Our Comida. Our Cultura.," a new exhibit presented by the City of San Antonio’s Department of Art and Culture, explores the relationship between food and cultural identity in San Antonio’s Mexican-American community and beyond, showcasing six San Antonio visual artists whose work addresses the role of food as a catalyst of social interaction and cultural identification. All of the artists have chosen subjects that connect deeply to their family, their roots, and their personal experiences.
The exhibit explores San Antonio’s long tradition of Mexican, Mexican-American, and Tex-Mex food cultures and celebrates the people — restaurateurs, patrons, and cooks — who continue these traditions in their homes, kitchens, and restaurants. After all, the city’s relationship with these cuisines has been a cultural and economic mainstay for centuries. Of special interest are the historic cookbooks from the UTSA Libraries Special Collections, which offer a window to the evolution and preservation of these recipes and traditions, and the historic photos of San Antonio’s iconic chili stands from the 1800s to the 1920s.
San Antonio native Rolando Briseño goes back 5,000 years to pay homage to ancient Mexican cooks and iconic dishes using acrylics mixed with culinary ingredients such as chiles and achiote (a seasoning paste made from annatto seeds), and old tablecloths and kitchen towels as his canvases.
Born and raised in Guadalajara, David Casillas explores the importance of corn in Mexican society through a multimedia installation that includes photographs and three-dimensional items to celebrate the humble maize-based foods of Mexico while exploring today’s troubled times. “As an artist you have the responsibility to reflect whatever is going on in the time in which you live, so for this exhibit I want to show some of the richness of my Mexican cultural heritage and how it interacts and stands strong facing social and racial conflicts.”
Jimena Marin finds personal healing and a desire to share her experience by painting her favorite vegan recipes. “The idea was to create drawings that illustrate how easy and beautiful vegan dishes are,” says Jimenez. “In this series I’m showing nine drawings; each one teaches the viewer how to cook a vegan dish. I want this information to be visually available.”
The work of the late Chuck Ramirez is represented by his Seven Days photograph series, which explores eating behaviors and the mechanisms of consumption as a way to comment on culture and contemporary society. Ramirez’ photographs imply debauchery and excess, but also commensalism, community, and deeply personal issues.
Mark Menjivar offers unconventional portraits of local Texas Mexican chefs by peeking into their personal refrigerators; Destiny Mata cherishes her family roots by chronicling her grandmother hand-making empanadas at her West Side restaurant; and Arlene Mejorado captures the heart and soul of San Antonio’s mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants and eateries.
“The inner city of San Antonio is the queen of mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants and eateries,” says Mejorado. “My photographs give perspective — like that tiny order window between kitchen and front of house — into small spaces that encompass so much social exchange, exercise in micro-economy, cultural relevance, and forge tradition and community into the future.”
The opening reception is Thursday, December 8, from 6-9 pm at Centro de Artes Gallery and includes refreshments, opportunities to meet participating artists, and more. The exhibit remains on display through February 17, 2017.