It’s a quiet place to ease into the exhibit, a chance to think about food and how we see sustenance: as home, as comfort, as fuel, as sharing, as community. What does food say about us?” reflects Susan Leask, Senior Curator at the San Jose Museum of Art. The San Jose Museum of Art’s new exhibit “Around the Table” includes over thirty artists, eighteen of whom have been commissioned to create new art for this show. Jitish Kallat’s “Epilogue” introduces the exhibit. “His work grounds you in your childhood and your place of origin,” says Leask.

“Around the Table” is a multidisciplinary exhibition that unfolds in three stages, like three different courses of a meal. The first stage is entitled “Jitish Kallat: Epilogue” and is open until April 20, 2014. Kallat, from Mumbai, draws inspiration from the city around him through painting, sculpture, and video. In “Epilogue,” Kallat searched for a way to honor his father while memorializing the 62 years of his life. Kallat settled on a sequence of photographs of 22,000 roti, each roti representing a day. The images of roti wax and wane according to the cycles of the moon in the sky during his father’s life.

“It’s a metaphor for nourishment and a meditation on time. Kallat places the scale of one human life within the cosmos,” explains Leask. Kallat is an internationally recognized artist whose work has been shown in the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. “Epilogue” is a deeply personal commemoration that explores the role of food in culture and family. “It’s deceptively simple, a really beautiful chance to reflect on your own transient existence. Seeing this memorial made me feel so close to his father, and allowed me to think about my own father,” says Leask.

The second phase of the exhibit opens on November 9, examining the importance of food in California with the exhibition of 29 additional artists. “The agricultural bounty of this region has brought waves of immigration and shaped a rich history of cultural diversity, which we share in part through food… food is charged with meaning for everyone,” explains Susan Krane, Executive Director of the San Jose Museum of Art. One of the pieces highlighted in the second phase of the exhibition will be Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik’s “Dear Indian Grocery Store Under the Freeway.”
“Seeing this work is an incredible experience, it’s gorgeous. Sita is also very aware of culture and how people see curry,” says Leask. An installation artist who has worked with curry for five years, Bhaumik’s childhood cuisine was informed by her Indian and Japanese heritage. Her artistic process, though, was sparked by reading an internet exchange. “Question: Help, my neighbor’s house smells like curry.  What should I do?  Answer: Call the INS.” Reading this exchange caused Bhaumik to consider that one could be “racist with their nose or their taste buds, as opposed to just their eyes.” Working with a box of curry powder, Bhaumik uses stamped designs to rub curry into a wall, creating the patterns of her work. The color, form, and smell of her art allows Bhaumik to challenge viewers’ ideas of race, culture, and acceptance.

Rory Padeken and Kat Kohn, working with Leask, have also brought in Sam Van Aken to create “Tree of 40 Fruits,” an actual tree with grafts from 40 different types of stone fruits to celebrate San Jose’s agricultural past. The final stage of the exhibition opens December 19, offering a chance for visitors to interact with artists directly. On the other side of curry divide, Mario Ybarra Jr.’s performance piece “Curry Corndog” will challenge ideas of street food while feeding visitors. Robert Karimi’s performance piece “Kitchen Revolutionaria” will educate ethnic communities at risk for Type 2 diabetes through cooking, humor, storytelling, and activism.

Outside the museum, the San Jose Museum of Art has partnered with 33 arts organizations to support the exhibit. Robin Treen has helped bring the Center for Asian American Media, the City of San Jose, the Palo Alto Art Center, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, and the India Community Center into the mix. “I was so impressed with the Center and what they’re doing there,” says Leask of the ICC’s work in Milpitas. Watching the entire city of San Jose come together is an excellent reason to visit this exhibit, and “there are all sorts of things here that no one has ever seen before,” concludes Leask.

Until April 20, 2014. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, closed Mondays. San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market Street, San Jose. $8, children under 6 free. http://www.sjmusart.org.

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