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An open invitation for the ‘uninvited’

Desiree Cooper
An open invitation for the ‘uninvited’

The surest path to human connection is to invite someone to your table for a meal. Sharing food has been the universal symbol of peace since the time of the Neanderthals, when they gathered around their prey as a community to gorge on a carcass. Thousands of years later, there’s hardly a milestone that isn’t commemorated with the gathering of the “tribe” for a meal. From a baby shower, christening or bris; to the wedding feast, housewarming, retirement party or funeral repast, we summon those we care about to join us at the table for life’s most important moments.   

To share food is also a sign of profound concern about another’s well-being. To give of your own sustenance is to validate another’s right to exist.

“Sharing food primes people to think about fairness (do I get as much as everyone else at the table?), authority (who is being served first?), and greed (sometimes I cannot take as much as I would personally want),” said Charlotte De Backer of the University of Antwerp in an interview with Time last year. De Backer was the lead researcher in a 2014 study published in the journal Appetite. The study showed that children who had been raised to eat “family-style” grew up with more prosocial behaviors (like volunteering and helping others) than children who did not. (Sitting at a restaurant ordering separate meals does not have the same affect.)

Which brings me to the ultimate snub: To be banned from the table, not allowed to break bread, skipped when the plate is passed, shunned from the feast. To dismiss someone from the table is not just about manners; it’s an existential comment about his or her worth.

That’s exactly how I have felt since the election: uninvited. I’m still in a state of debilitating anger as I have watched Trump set the political table for white supremacists, corporate robber barons, vacuous egomaniacs and appointees who are anti-labor, anti-woman, anti-environment, anti-immigration and pro-war. The message is clear: There’s no room for me at their table.  

This month, local artists Nancy Rodwan and Pam Murray are setting a table for the rest of us. They are the curators of an exhibit entitled “The Uninvited” to be held at Detroit’s Tangent Gallery on Jan. 22. Several dozen artists from many disciplines are reimagining plates, bowls, teacups, platters, etc. to express their concerns about the political realities under the Trump regime.  

“We continue to have lots of fear and anxiety about what’s going to happen to the people in our communities under Trump,” Rodwan says. “As an artist, I needed to respond. I had been working on another project where someone had donated a complete set of china. I thought, wait a minute—let’s set the table for the uninvited.”

The event, influenced by both the Last Supper and by artist Judy Chicago’s seminal exhibit “The Dinner Party” (featuring place settings that represent women left out of history), will include spoken word from Detroit hip-hop artists like Mahogany Jones and Dominique Rhodes, as well as sculptural place settings from mixed media artist M. Saffel Gardner, ceramic artist Barbara Barefield, fiber artist Mandisa Smith and others. Among the contributors will be young people, immigrants and mothers of children with special needs.  

Author and photographer Nichole Christian will also be adding to the installation, even though she does not consider herself a sculptor. “This is out of my comfort zone,” she says, “but in these times, we’re living out of the comfort zone.”

Christian added that now is the time to speak out.

“Audre Lorde once said that your silence won’t protect you,” she says. “This exhibit is a response to the times that would allow someone like (Trump) to get even a stone’s throw of the White House. I responded with my vote and that wasn’t enough. Now I have to respond with everything else that I have.”

I look forward to contributing to the installation as well. It’s critical that we join together and be visible, breaking spiritual bread with people of good conscience. How else will we regain hope? 

“The Uninvited” will be held on January 22 at the Tangent Gallery, 715 East Milwaukee Avenue, in Detroit from 1--3 p.m. Spoken word/open mic performances will begin at 2 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Food and beverages will be available. Donations accepted to defray costs. For more information, email rodwanproductions@gmail.com.