Place Settings: Diasporic Food Identities

2016, Art, Doris McCarthy Gallery, Temporary Exhibit
contemporary art, diaspora, domestic spaces, food and drink, Greater Toronto Area, home, identity, installation art, memory, multi-sensory, performance art, University of Toronto
About This Project

Date: June 22 – July 3, 2016

Partner: Doris McCarthy Gallery

Venue: Doris McCarthy Gallery – map

Project Members: Anya Baker, Leah Moncada, Madeline Smolarz


Food is intrinsically tied to identity through the bonds of memory, heritage, community, and personal taste. The preparation of food and the rituals that surround individual and shared eating can translate into a sense of inclusion within a cultural community. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is a nexus of these experiences, as members of various diasporas attempt to navigate new, and perhaps destabilizing cultural, social, and gastronomic terrains. In this exhibition, relationships with oneself and others are measured and evaluated through interactions with food preparation and consumption. The artists selected for Place Settings are all members of different GTA diasporic communities. As expressed in their works, they explore their personal identities through their domestic experiences with food, which include cooking, food manipulation, and eating. They seek to reconcile the situational complexities associated with identity formation in unfamiliar locations. Each work speaks to the universality of eating and the labours behind it, the role of food in constructing social bonds, and its contribution to the formation of identity and redefining communal relationships.


The intended audience for this exhibition included attendees of the Scarborough Fare Conference (who are academics in the study of food and society), summer students and faculty members at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, contemporary artists and those who appreciate contemporary art within the GTA, members of immigrant and diasporic communities in the GTA, as well as those who appreciate food and contemplating the social significance of different types of food.


The exhibition was located at the Doris McCarthy Gallery (DMG) because it is the only gallery at the University of Toronto Scarborough, where the Scarborough Fare Conference took place. The Gallery is located in the Bladen building, which also holds the Culinaria Institute, a key attraction for the Conference. The larger, rectangular East Gallery held the artworks, and the smaller, square West Gallery displayed both an interactive response wall and viewing space for the film “Hold The Ketchup.”


The exhibition benefitted financially from several key sponsors: the Doris McCarthy Gallery, the “Scarborough Fare: Global Foodways and Local Food in a Transnational City” Conference, Masco Canada, OK Auto Body, and the Faculty of Information.


As a potential project for the MSL4000 Exhibition Project class at the iSchool, this exhibition was pitched to the team in late September 2015. The research on GTA artists, logistical planning, and writing of the exhibition took place over the next eight months until April 2016. As the timeline of the project extended beyond the bounds of the course structure, the team continued working on the project until its launch on June 22, 2016. The installation was scheduled for June 20-21, 2016 and the de-installation occurred on June 4, 2016.


Works by artists Basil AlZeri, Tonia Di Risio, and Susana Reisman were displayed during this exhibition. The artworks by AlZeri were “The Mobile Kitchen Lab” and the “The Most Precious of All Closets”, both installations. DiRisio’s installations of video works, “Cooking Videos/FEED”, were mounted on a dining room table and within a china hutch. Reisman’s 2D photography works, “The Real Thing (after Robert Morris)”, “The Real Thing (after Donald Judd)”, “Splitting (after Gordon Matta-Clark)”, “One and the Same (after Hilla and Bernd Becher)”, and “Endless Column (after Constantin Brancusi)” were displayed in groups along the walls. The text included: two introductory panels (one for inside the gallery, and one for outside the gallery door in a vitrine); three artists panels; and eight tombstone labels. The Gallery, through the intervention of the installations and photography, was meant to be interpreted as a domestic space, inviting visitors to engage closely with their own identities as they interacted with the works.


The exhibition was promoted largely by the Doris McCarthy Gallery through their online platforms such as social media (Facebook and Twitter) and online invites. They also provided physical copies of the gallery card to passersby, visitors, and to members of their mailing list. The Scarborough Fare Conference agreed to include the exhibit in its own marketing promotions and featured our reception as one of its opening events. As well, the interactive food performance called “The Mobile Kitchen Lab by one of the selected artists, Basil AlZeri, was also included as one of the programs on the Conference’s programme.


At the time this case study was produced, Place Settings had not yet debuted. Therefore, there were no quantifiable outcomes available that could be shared or analyzed for the purposes of this case study.


We would like to express our thanks to all of the staff at the Doris McCarthy Gallery for sharing their expertise and time, especially Curator Ann MacDonald. Thank you also to the Scarborough Fare Conference for its support of and enthusiasm, and to our generous sponsors at Masco, OK Auto Body, and the Faculty of Information as well. Finally, we recognize and thank the many professionals who contributed to the realization of Place Settings.