My plan was to see Tastes Like Sunshine later this month, however, an opportunity arose today. After 100% Brisbane, I was expecting a lot from the new exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane. While the exhibition was not to the same standard, it was still enjoyable and included some wonderful information and artworks. I am going to provide an overview of the exhibition then delve into a couple of different aspects.
According to their website, the exhibition seeks to explore the “flavoursome” side of Brisbane, revealing an evolving food story. This story is told through contemporary art, personal stories, historical documents, and images. Slavery, Indigenous culture, immigration, history of food markets, and food production in Queensland were all addressed within the space. On top of this, issues of environmental degredation and the treatment of animals were also tackled. Needless to say, this exhibition had a huge amount of content to display.
The actual space containing the exhibition was not large at all. It took us around 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other – and this included stopping to read the labels. I am going to highlight a few of my favourite things about the exhibition.
- The Wallpaper
On first entering the space, you see this absolutely incredible wallpaper designed by artist Elizabeth Willing.
The title of the work is Strawberry Thief (after William Morris). The foods included in the wallpaper are local Indigenous foods – macadamia nut, bunya nut, lilly pilly, finger lime, and Moreton Bay bug. The work, therefore, merges this European heritage with local Indigenous knowledge/culture. It’s a striking way to start the exhibition considering it’s pasted on four massive walls. Also, it has a strong message – Brisbane’s food history is layered with different cultures who have all contributed to what we eat today.
- Untitled (toasted marshmellows)
Near the entrance is this very unusal looking artwork.
After reading the label, I thought surely these are fake. They are not. These are the actual skins of marshmellows that have been toasted. It is bizarre and I love it. One of those fantastic pieces of art that you have to see up close to really believe it is what the label says.
- Produce Cartons
Sean Rafferty created this colourful wall of produce cartons.
Similar to the wallpaper, it is aesthetically amazing. Also, there is a lovely story behind the installation. Rafferty was commissioned by the Museum of Brisbane to produce two artworks for the exhibition. After talking to farmers, wholesalers, and distributors at Brisbane’s Rocklea markets, he developed this idea of sharing the produce of Queensland through the carton boxes that carry it from farm to market. It is a great snapshot at the types of food that are grown and distributed in this State.
On display next to the boxes is a historical map of Roma Street food markets. It is lovely to see this historical document juxtaposed with the contemporary art installation.
- South Sea Islanders and Sugar Cane
Towards the back of the exhibition is the story of the South Sea Islanders ’employed’ by plantation owners in Queensland as a source of cheap labour. Between 1863 and 1904, it is estimated that approximately 62 000 South Sea Islanders came to Queensland. Some were coerced or forced to work on the sugar plantations in a practice known as ‘blackbirding’. By 1901, most were deported. Those who continued to live in Queensland were formally recognised in 2000 as a distinct community group that has contributed to the development of Queensland.
- Food Futures
Right at the end of the exhibition is a space called Food Futures. This space looks at the impact of growing food on the environment and how the future of food in Brisbane may evolve further. In this space there are three interactive touch screens that allow you to answer 12 questions and discover if your inner self is a carnivore, vegetarian, vegan, plus two other options I can’t remember. Once you have your answer, you can take a sticker with your result. It is fun and it makes you think – what more could you want.
Overall, the exhibition is a nice mix of history and art, shedding some light on the history of food in Brisbane. I think what worked best in the exhibition space was the intertwining of historical documents, contemporary art, photographs, and digital technology. The exhibition, however, tried to do too much in a very small space. Unlike 100% Brisbane which was amazingly inclusive, I feel as though this exhibition would have excluded so many from the narrative purely because of its scale. Perhaps if it was more focused on the food of the region as shown through contemporary art it may have reached its aim a little more successfully. It was an exhibition that bit off a bit more than it could chew – pun absolutely intended.
Regardless, it was a lovely visit to the museum. I even saw some of the new Easton Pearson collection that, intended or not, suited the exhibition themes. For example, there was a lovely top with pineapples printed on the fabric. I really enjoy visiting the Museumo of Brisbane so no doubt I will return shortly to write another review!