Newly opened on Saturday, June 4th, a sprawling show called "Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love" at the New York Botanical Garden takes an artful approach to showcasing not only the edible bounty provided by nature, but also the diverse traditions of culture and cuisine surrounding dinner tables in the Bronx and throughout New York City.
Gothamist previewed the exhibition a month ago with photographs by longtime contributor Sai Mokhtari, who provided images of the show in-the-making, emphasizing artistically executed tables fashioned by Bronx-based creators.
Those tables are among the highlights of "Around the Table." On view through September 11th, the show also includes a gallery display of works by Lina Puerta, a Colombian-American artist whose work is meant to examine varying facets of this country's food systems.
Further attractions include a collection of oral histories concerning Bronx food traditions and a display of historic vegetarian cookbooks. An African American garden focuses specifically on crops closely associated with Black American history and customs: both transplanted and native food crops and commodities enslaved people were forced to cultivate, like tobacco and cotton.
Events related to those traditions and topics will be held during the run of the exhibition, and on some days a hibiscus stand will be serving red tea.
And then, of course, there are the plants, which Mokhtari reports are just starting to flourish. "The exhibition will evolve as the plants complete their seasonal cycles," she said. "For example, the sorghum on display outside the conservatory is quite small right now. But by the end of the summer, it will be upwards of four feet tall. Plants will grow, fruits will come in and ripen."
Some plants, like new olive trees, are destined for permanent residency at the Garden. But many of the fruits and vegetables that will be harvested during the exhibition will be donated to Bronx food banks. An expanded range of vegetarian options is available in the garden's cafes, and a farmers' market will be in operation on Wednesdays.
Noting that the show is less visually stunning than previous NYBG exhibitions, Mokhtari bore witness to its affecting power. "I think it’s incredibly evocative and even quietly political," Mokhtari reported. "We've grown farther away from our food sources and histories. Everything is available all the time, often processed, packaged and ready made. It's easy to forget about food seasonality, about the plants that our foods actually come from, the people that cultivated and moved them across continents for thousands of years, that fought wars over them."
"Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love" is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, plus Monday federal holidays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through September 11th at the New York Botanical Garden; nybg.org