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Opening Reception for Place Settings: Diasporic Food Identities

Basil AlZeri, The Mobile Kitchen Lab, 2013, Toronto. Installation image: Fado +XPACE Cultural Centre. Courtesy of XPACE and the artist.

Place Settings: Diasporic Food Identities is curated by Anya Baker, Leah Moncada, and Madeline Smolarz, with works by Basil AlZeri, Tonia Di Risio, and Susana Reisman.

Diasporic communities are defined in part by the strong ties they cultivate with their homeland. Embracing and trying to find a place within a di­fferent locality and cultural framework develops these ties into a hybrid identity that is unique to relocated peoples. Culturally distinctive food plays a central role in supporting these relationships, given the powerful connection between taste and memory. Making and sharing a meal that is rooted in cultural tradition is an act that unites individuals in a collective expression of heritage and community. The preparation of food and the rituals that surround individual and shared eating can translate into a sense of inclusion in a new place and increase a sense of belonging by maintaining a connection to one’s origins. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is a nexus of these experiences; members of various dispersed groups navigate and respond to unfamiliar, and perhaps destabilizing cultural, social, and gastronomic terrains.

The selected artists in this exhibition either belong to diasporic communities or have arrived in Toronto from elsewhere. Each artist’s sense of self, culture, and community connections are strengthened through interactions with food preparation and consumption. Through their works, the artists explore their personal, professional, and diasporic identities through their own domestic experiences with food, which include food preparation, cooking, the presentation of a meal, and eating. The artists seek to reconcile memories of their ancestral homelands with the ramifications of complex patterns of geographic dispersion and relocation. This process is associated with the expression and negotiation of identity 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 assertion of identity and redefining communal relationships.

The Scarborough Fare: Global Foodways and Local Foods in a Transitional City Conference is hosted by the University of Toronto’s hub for food studies research, Culinaria Research Centre (CRC). CRC is dedicated to documenting, preserving, and studying the world’s culinary diversity. CRC is currently hosting the prestigious Connaught Cross-Cultural/Cross-Divisional Seminar as part of the international collaborative research project, City Food, which seeks to study migrants’ contributions to urban food systems. The Culinaria Kitchen Teaching Laboratory will host a number of exciting demonstrations during the conference.



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