Sabor Latino: Bodegas of Aesthetic Ideas

Article excerpt

Artifacts, notes Julia Marshall (2002, p. 280) represent direct entryways into cultural inquiry and criticism for they are often ordinary, familiar, multiple, and integrated into everyday life. Associations of food -with family conversations, interactions and gatherings in homes and/or cafes are often activities and routines that build continuity and close relationships. For example,"comfort food" is often a flavor or smell of individual families' home cooked dishes as well as the pace and mood of mealtime. In addition, the transitional stages of cultural identity that may be due to displacement, economic hardship, social unrest, and political instability illustrate important conceptual ideas that may bridge various ethnic groups.

In this article, theoretical and pedagogical issues related to cultural diversity are integrated with technical art education issues of rubrics, museum/school partnerships, and questioning strategies through the presentation of a thematic district-wide visual arts project entitled"Sabor Latino: Bodegas of Aesthetic Ideas. "The districtwide artmaking project involved 13 schools in Plainfield (one high school, two middle schools, and ten elementary schools) during the 2003-04 school year. The goal of the project was to depict readily accessible foods associated with Latino culture as representative imagery/artifacts indicative of a retelling of living in the Latino diaspora. 'The visual arts project was created so as to work with the state-wide initiative, Transcultural New Jersey: Diverse Artists Shaping Cultures and Communities, which show cased art in museums and galleries from professional artists and students from underrepresented ethnic communities.

Nuances within Diversity

The objective of the "Sabor Latino" artmaking project was a reexamination of immediate personal, community, and cultural surroundings in order to understand and reflect on students' diverse cultural experiences within the respectful environment of the classroom. The wide assortment of foods/artifacts associated with Latino cuisine found in local markets within the borders of the town of Plainfield offered students opportunities to recognize the nuances of cultural identity within their community. The African American and Latino high school students saw the relevance of the motivation behind the art project in attempting to learn respect and cultural understanding through an examination of Latin American foods.2

Artmaking that is especially noteworthy as research is the creation of an art form that embodies both concept and process and serves as a springboard for more thought and learning (Marshall, 2002). Noting the lack of uniformity in Latin American cuisine, the geographic and climatic diversity of the region broadened the art teachers' conceptual understanding of Latino society and culture. During the process of planning the art project, the art teachers considered painting and sculpture projects executed in realistic and abstract styles appropriate for the developmental level of the student artists. The student exhibition, "Sabor Latino: Bodegas of Aesthetic Ideas," centered on the transitional cultural identity of being Latino Land living in the United States.

The availability and appeal of cultural foods made cuisine a natural cultural arbiter for this artmaking project. By using actual fresh and packaged foods as the subject of the works of art, the folk traditions of Latino art history with its pliable history of individual narratives and ethnic boundaries was underscored rather than the replication or emulation of established Latino artists' work. The tradition of Western art history to emulate works of the Old Masters was broadened to include quotidian subjects in this district-wide art project. "Food and language," mused Mildred Fernandez, the World Language and English as a second Language supervisor in Plainfield," are often the first and last aspects of a culture to change for new immigrants . …