I'm delighted to be one of 21 artists participating in the Women Chefs: Artists in the Kitchen exhibit at the Mansion at Strathmore (September 5–November 8, 2015). Each artist was paired with a famous local chef, and challenged by curator Harriet Lesser and chef instructor Susan Calahan to stretch the boundaries of the concept of 'the Portrait.' I was thrilled and honored to be paired with Chef Marianne Ali! Here's a little bit about Chef Ali and my portrait of her, "Seeds of Change." See below for details about our opening reception, curator's talk, panel discussion and chef demonstrations.
Seeds of Change
Chef Marianne Ali (aka Chef Mali) is a master of transformation. She is dedicated to facilitating change through her role at DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) where 5,000 meals are prepared to nourish the local community—every day of the year. Mali is Director of the renowned Culinary Job Training program that prepares formerly incarcerated or homeless adult students for careers in the food service industry. Her holistic program includes training in culinary arts, job readiness skills, and self-empowerment.
Change is difficult and often times, painful. The anticipation of profound shifts in a student’s life—in anyone’s life—can be overwhelming. At times we are imprisoned by limitations set on us by others as well as ourselves. Chef Mali guides people from a place of fear and resistance to one of hope and empowerment. Her dramatic personal transformation is the inspiration for her work. Twenty years ago, Ali courageously overcame a 20 year addiction to heroin and has been clean ever since. In 2014, she was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change. Leading with strength, understanding and compassion, the gutsy, big-hearted Marianne Ali dishes out tough love and inspires all of us to embrace our potential.
Concept and Process
My process began with research and informal interviews both off-site and in Chef Mali’s work space. I felt an immediate connection with Marianne—she has a great personality—and I was honored to be creating her portrait because I respect and admire her. Photographer, Ulf Wallin, helped me by shooting images of Chef Mali for reference. After several weeks of following the wrong path I refined my concept and chose to create a vessel (bowl) with paper I made by hand (abaca), wire and wire mesh. The materials are unpredictable to work with and are somewhat fragile, just as people are unpredictable and vulnerable. The term “vessel” can refer to a person who is regarded as a holder or receiver of something. I think of Marianne Ali as a holder of hope and a receiver of grace. The large bowl-shaped vessel also represents community. The sculptural components of the piece reference growth and transformation. Chef Mali’s likeness is created as a high contrast portrait, symbolizing the extremes in her life experiences. Her image is created with poppy seeds, referencing the duality of the poppy which provides seeds that are safe to eat and the naturally occurring morphine molecule which is synthesized into heroin, a dangerous drug. The mustard seeds reference the parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
I am interested in two aspects from selected interpretations of the parable:
1) the theme of large growth from small beginnings
2) the suggestion that the birds represent the sinners and tax collectors with whom Jesus was criticized for associating
If you're in the Washington DC Area I hope you'll join us for the opening reception and other "Women Chef" events at Strathmore!
Opening Reception: Sept 10, 2015; 7–9pm Mansion of Strathmore, Free
Gallery Talk and Workshop for Children: Sept 12, 2015; 12–1pm, Mansion of Strathmore, $5
Gallery Talk and Tour for Adults: Sept 12, 2015; 1–2pm, Mansion of Strathmore, Free
Panel Discussion and Book Signing: Sept 20, 2015; 2–3pm, Mansion of Strathmore, Free
Panelists include: Nora Pouillon, Restaurant Nora; Joyce Zipperer, Metal Artist; Ruth Gresser, Pizzeria Paradiso; Bonnie Benwick, Deputy Food editor, Recipe Editor, The Washington Post; and Harriet Lesser, Moderator
The Art of Taste (Wednesday Night Demonstrations) Every Wednesday from Sept 16–Nov 4, 6–8pm, in the Mansion of Strathmore, Free
Sept 16—Chef Susan Callahan, Chef Instructor with University of Maryland
Sept 23—Chef Janet Yu, Hollywood East Café
Sept 30—Chef Susan Delbert, The Fourth Estate at National Press Club
Oct 7—Chef Nora Pouillon, Restaurant Nora
Oct 14—Chef Elise Wendland, Comus Inn
Oct 21—Chef Drew Faulkner, CookingWithDrew.com
Oct 28—Ridgewells Catering and Strathmore Caterers
Nov 4—Chef Michelle Houser, Full On Eats and Drinks