In his “A History of Slavery” works, artist Brent Holmes uses food portraiture as a narrative for the voice of the owned, beginning with the Roman gladiators and continuing on to Colonial America and present-day fast-food society. Food as history isn’t always at the forefront of conversation and popular culture, but the artist refers to it as the ultimate “cultural hand-me-down,” heavily tied to memory and emotion.
Holmes’ still life photography is part of February: African-American Talent Showcase at TastySpace Gallery, which highlights 12 area artists working in a variety of disciplines. Put together by gallery owner Dana Satterwhite as a “celebration of community and creativity,” it also features work by Satterwhite, Joseph Watson, Lucky Wenzel, Ashanti McGee, Lance Smith, Tanya Watler, Wesley Vonn, Austin Calix, Daria Riley, Wendy Rountree and Michael Star.
The exhibit includes Vonn’s stylized photography, Watson’s illustrative paintings and McGee’s ink drawing, “Maybe They’re Thirsty,” referencing an incident from the second Punic War that ties in with her interest in folklore about animals as omens.
Holmes, who has incorporated food into performance art and photography, says he normally veers away from race-based political work, but that “A History of Slavery” (Parts 1-3) seemed an appropriate place to tie in his ongoing explorations of history through food culture with Black History Month.
“History of Slavery Pt. 1” is a still life of barley, millet, onions, grapes, pomegranate and assorted table scraps piled ruggedly in a way that resembles the landscape and terrain of the region where gladiators fought for the pleasure of others in bloody arenas. Many were slaves who, through battle, could buy freedom. “Pt. 2,” ham hocks and collard greens placed on burlap against a darkened background, references Colonial America. A Big Mac represents today’s lower-class society, a sort of contemporary “indentured servitude.”
“There is a long history in art of capturing food still lifes,” Holmes says. “What there isn’t is a long history of tying that to world views.”
February: African-American Talent Showcase Through March 10, hours vary. TastySpace Gallery, Emergency Arts, 617-513-7336.