The Africa Center and Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) will kick-off Black History Month with the opening of African/American: Making the Nation’s Table. This exhibition will highlight the many ways African culture has influenced African American Cuisine, and how those traditions have blended to create the foundation for American food.
The exhibition will take visitors on a journey, following the movement of Afro-descended people and their traditions from West Africa across the Atlantic, and from the American South to the North.
Curated by Dr. Jessica B. Harris—Widely Considered the World’s Preeminent Expert on the Foods of the African Diaspora—the Exhibition Reveals the Stories of Innovators, Cooks, Mixologists, and Entrepreneurs as it Emphasizes that African American Food Is American Food
Exhibition Highlights Include:
- An Immersive Experience of the Ebony Magazine Test Kitchen, an Iconic Historical Artifact that Served as a Source of Inspiration and Preservation for Generations of African Americans, Newly Refurbished and Accessible to the Public for the First Time, with Music Curated by Kelis
- The Legacy Quilt, Composed of 406 Blocks Sewn into a Vast Representation of African American Contributions to the Fabric of American Cuisine
- A Dynamic Digital Interactive Feature that Replicates a Dinner Table, Allowing Users to Unlock Stories about Migration, Movement, Cultural Evolution, and the Feeling of Sharing a Meal with Friends and Family
Thanks to the Generous Support of Judy Gibbons and Francesco Scattone and Turner Construction Company, MOFAD is Offering a Free Community Membership, Providing Free Access to the Exhibition for Residents Living in the Six ZIP Codes Surrounding The Africa Center
The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) presents African/American: Making the Nation’s Table, February 23–June 19, 2022, beginning three weeks later than previously announced due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Tickets will go on sale to the public on Wednesday, January 26th at www.mofad.org. Displayed within the newly-constructed home of partner The Africa Center at Aliko Dangote Hall (1280 5th Avenue, New York), the first-of-its-kind exhibition celebrates the countless contributions of Black chefs, farmers, and food and drink producers who have laid the foundation for American food culture — recognition that is long overdue. Understanding the rich and expansive stories underlying any good meal, African/American seeks, in its immersiveness and historic scope, to offer a portrait of the immense breadth of African American traditions and innovations in cooking.
With African/American, arriving after a two-year postponement due to the pandemic, MOFAD expands on nearly a decade of making the case, in a museum setting, for culinary history’s centrality in our social and cultural life. Since 2013, MOFAD has brought to the public large-scale, engaging, and educational explorations of breakfast cereal, the flavor industry, Chinese American restaurants, and more. Spanning four centuries, African/American: Making the Nation’s Table’s immersive approach to the abundance these histories contain expands MOFAD’s vision of food as a powerful lens for understanding ourselves, each other, and the world around us.
Dr. Jessica B. Harris—the acclaimed 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 exhibition with the knowledge and input of an advisory committee of over 30 visionaries within the Black American culinary landscape, including Michael Twitty (James Beard Award-winning author of The Cooking Gene), Nicole Taylor (author of the Up South Cookbook), and Adrian Miller (James Beard Award-winning author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine). (See full list of exhibition advisors here.) Dr. Harris says, “I have spent more than four decades writing about African American food culture. Why? Because our history is on the plate. For this reason, we need to tell our story and tell it well. The exhibition African/American: 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 African American food is American food.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition, the Legacy Quilt—illustrated by Adrian Franks, sewn by the quilting collective Harlem Needle Arts using period-appropriate fabrics, and featuring blurbs on each block by writer Osayi Endolyn—depicts, through traditions stitched together and interconnected across the Diaspora, space, and time, a selection of hundreds among countless stories that deserve recognition. This awe-inspiring artifact stands 14 feet tall and nearly 28 feet wide. The Legacy Quilt also includes an interactive, virtual experience whereby people can submit their own stories of African American culinary heroes to add—emphasizing that these culinary histories are not finite, that the work of documenting and celebrating them is ongoing.
Visitors are then carried through four centuries of influence on agriculture, culinary arts, brewing and distilling, and commerce. The movement of people—whether enslaved Africans across the Atlantic or over six million Black Americans from the South to the North during the Great Migration—and in turn, their food traditions across place and time, is a central theme of the exhibition.
While the Legacy Quilt offers a breathtaking panorama, the Ebony Magazine Test Kitchen—saved from wreckage thanks to preservationists Landmarks Illinois and accessible to the public for the first time in history —offers immersion into a specific institution (and its vivid, Afro-Modernist aesthetic representation of its historic moment) that served as a culinary touchstone for more than two generations of African Americans. Described by The Chicago Tribune as “the most distinctive test kitchen ever created,” it was the site where recipes from Ebony food editors—from oyster gumbo to sweet potato pudding—came together for the iconic “A Date With A Dish” column. The multisensory experience features a soul-stirring soundtrack curated by musician, farmer, and chef Kelis, and video interviews with former Ebony food editors.
Another central element is a dynamic digital interactive project that uses iconic dishes to unlock informative, animated maps. This feature replicates a dinner table, and by moving around silverware, cups, and even the food, users unlock stories about migration, cultural evolution, and the feeling of sharing a meal with friends and family.
Summoning the complexities and movements, struggles and joys of these culinary histories through food, the exhibition also features to-go shoebox lunches (available for an additional fee)—recalling the meals African American train travelers packed in shoeboxes during the Great Migration, as they were often refused service. These tastings are developed by renowned chefs such as Carla Hall, Adrienne Cheatham, and Kwame Onwuachi, all advisors on the exhibition.
Reserve your ticket for Food is Power: Feeding Movement of Black Resistance Then and Now to be held on March 15, 2022 from 7:00 to 8:30pm at The Africa Center.
Led by author of Power Hungry: Women of the Black Panther Party and Freedom Party and Their Fight to Feed a Movement, Dr. Suzanne Cope, join us as we interrogate how food has fueled social and political movements of the past and present, such as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. This dialogue will feature scholars and activists of past and present including former Black Panther member Cleo Silver, Executive Director of FoodLab Detroit Devita Davison, and Allegra Massaro, co- founder of Fuel the People.
Reserve your ticket for High on the Hog: African American food is American Food to be held on Tuesday, March 22 from 7:00 to 8:30pm at The Africa Center.
In celebration of the opening of African/ American: Making the Nation’s Table, MOFAD is thrilled to host a conversation between lead curator of the exhibition, Dr. Jessica B. Harris and host of the Netflix series, High on the Hog, Stephen Satterfield. Dr. Harris and Satterfield will discuss how her decades of scholarship have been interpreted both at the exhibition and for Netflix’s High on the Hog. This is an in-person program with a virtual option.
In-person tickets will include access to the exhibition (doors open at 6pm), a Shoebox Lunch Tasting curated by Carla Hall, and two glasses of wine. Copies of High on the Hog will be available for signature & purchase on the night of the event or can be ordered online from our bookstore partner, BEM.
With an in-person or virtual event, Forced Migration, Food and Identity: What it Means to be African and American will take place on April 27th from 7:00 to 8:30pm at The Africa Center, Aliko Dante Hall. Reserve your ticket Here.
Next up, James Hemings and the Birth of American Haute Cuisine on May 3rd.
On May 3rd, The Africa Center and MOFAD honor the immense culinary contributions of James Hemings, the enslaved chef of Thomas Jefferson who trained in Paris and brought his proficiency in French cooking and a trove of recipes back to Monticello. The evening will include a screening of a portion of the documentary film, James Hemings: Ghost in America’s Kitchen directed by Anthony Werhun followed by a panel discussion with James Hemings Society Founder Ashbell McElveen and members Therese Nelson, Tonya Hopkins, and Heather Johnston.
Culinary Lyricism: Exploring the Intersection of Food and Music in Black Community and Culture on May 17th. This is an In-Person Program with a Virtual Option.
Food, like music, is shaped by our environment, socio-economic status, and heritage. Both food and music are a product of these broader contexts and articulation of our struggles and triumphs within them.
This conversation will explore the various parallels in the way trends and textures shape the two most basic forms of expression, food and music. Incorporating the perspectives of Jarobi White, chef and a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest; along with author, chef and opera singer Alexander Smalls; food, culture and history scholar Nia-Raquelle Smith; and Chef Amethyst Ganaway.
‘Time and Place are No Longer Singular’ ~ Ezra Tube in conversation with Henone Girma on May 24th.
Join The Africa Center and The Newark Museum of Art on Tuesday, May 24 at 12:00PM ET for a virtual conversation between artist Ezra Wube and curator Henone Girma. Ezra Wube is a mixed-media artist living in Brooklyn, whose work explores fragmented senses of time and place to forge newly imagined realities. Wube’s own experience of navigating between different geographies—from the country of his birth, Ethiopia, to his new home in the United States—shapes his approach to storytelling through art.His work incorporates both traditional and contemporary media and references, using collage and animation to create multilayered, fluid explorations of here and there, then and now. His mixed media installation Project Junction, a site-specific commission that considers food as an expression of collective identity in its ever evolving state, is currently on view at The Africa Center.
For this program, Wube will share and discuss his work with Henone Girma, Associate Curator of Arts of Global Africa at The Newark Museum of Art. The conversation will be introduced by Alana Francis de Govia, Chief Program and Experience Officer at The Africa Center.
“MOFAD produces exhibitions and other public programs that help people to better access their own history and the histories of the people around them as manifested through food and drink. We are committed to collaborating with fellow New York City cultural institutions to give exposure to stories that may have been underappreciated, untold, or erased in the sweep of history and the narrow narratives that dominate it—and to sharing these vital legacies in new and profound ways,” said MOFAD President Nazli Parvizi. “This large-scale, first-of-its-kind exhibition delves into the many ways African Americans have shaped the American culinary experience. So much of what we grow and how we grow it, and what we eat and how we eat it, derives from these invaluable contributions. We are thrilled, after a two-year pause, to see the full scope of this project come together.”
“In every corner of the globe, African customs have permeated societies, often in unknown or unacknowledged ways,” said Uzodinma Iweala, CEO of The Africa Center. “We are excited that African/American will premiere at The Africa Center, and that visitors will engage with the many African food traditions found in American cuisine in Harlem, the place known around the world for the vibrancy, rich flavors, and dynamism of the African American cultural experience.”
Mapping the Nation’s Table ~ Highlighting Black-owned food and drink businesses across the country, with a special emphasis on Legacy businesses: these farms, restaurants, and stores have been in operation for 50 years or longer and are still serving communities today.
Highlights also include Virtual Reality Theater, Ebony Test Kitchen, Movements and more.
African/American: Making the Nation’s Table will open on February 23 and be on view through July 17, 2022 at The Africa Center, Aliko Dante Hall, 1280 Fifth Avenue at the intersection of 110th Street and Fifth Avenue on Duke Ellington Circle.