Work on paper by artist Stephanie A. Lindquist, Kohlrabi and Common Sheep Sorrel (Europe).
Interview by Eva Mayhabal Davis
It’s been a pleasure to share space, knowledge, laughter and tables of food with Stephanie, a visual artist and cultural producer based in NYC. In time, I have come to learn and see more of Stephanie’s work. Her work is dedicated to research-based visual explorations at the intersection of historical and botanical research of indigenous food plants. Her imagery layers the complexity of human relationship to food, agriculture, and the ultimate relationship to nature. I was able to ask a few questions to understand her work further. More of her work can be viewed on her website and instagram.
EMD: What have you been reading about lately?
SAL: I just finished reading Kellie Jones’ South of Pico. Being from Los Angeles this book was incredibly meaningful for me to learn about the legacy of black and brown artists in Southern California who have worked with found materials, abstraction, minimalist aesthetics, ritual, memory, history in ways that are simultaneously invisible and hyper visible. It was also a wonderful surprise to learn how connected and supportive they were of one another at a time when it was rare for many African-American artists to be welcomed into a MFA program, let alone a museum exhibition.
EMD: When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
SAL: From my adolescence I have found pleasure in making images, thinking about art, and curating (rearranging my art in my bedroom). My parents had an eclectic collection of Western modern and contemporary prints and African sculpture in the house that I spent a lot of time examining.
EMD: What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
SAL: My current work aims to foster our relationship with the natural world as well as with our ancestors through indigenous food plants. Farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka’s ideas around natural farming and dieting first inspired me to begin researching indigenous food plants of Africa and North America. Plants are an elucidating lens to see the history of European colonialism and modern capitalism in Africa and the Americas. Plants follow voluntary and forced migration patterns; food and culture are stymied by forced assimilation, and tastes and diets change over time. Much of our biodiversity has been lost along the way.
My work offers remembrance of what we have to gain spiritually, physically, and environmentally by recognizing, cultivating and consuming ancient, local food.
EMD: Can you elaborate on your process?
SAL: I start by researching and collecting found or original imagery of food plants indigenous to a specific region, whether Southern California or North Africa. The plants range in how common they are–most are not commercially produced. In honor of the Tongva nation, I chose Screwbean Mesquite, White Sage and Diamond Cholla. For North Africa, I focused on Balanites Aegyptica, Allium Roseum, Drinn, Vachelli Tortilis, and Maerua Crassifolia.
I like to cut these images by hand at a small scale to determine their composition. Once satisfied, I duplicate this process on the computer to make large prints on aluminum or acrylic, or I hand cut and collage the images again on finer, larger paper.
For me the works function as PSAs or large ads for healthy eating. They also serve as reminders of our history and what has been lost along the way. Few viewers immediately recognize any of these plants, and those that do already have some sort of relationship with the plants.
EMD: What are two songs you would use to describe your energy?
SAL: Sing to the Moon by Laura Mvula
Enchanté by Fergie
EMD: What are you working on right now?
SAL: I recently visited a Liberian farmer and his family in New Jersey who are growing West African vegetables. As you can imagine, it has been exhilarating for me to connect with farmers from my mother’s country. On the farm we harvested Bitter Ball (Garden Egg) and French Bitter Ball–two among hundreds of eggplant varieties indigenous to Africa–okra, and several leafy greens called Palavar/Jute, Malabar Spinach, Sawa Sawa, and Fever Leaves.
This summer I’ve also cultivated 2 garden plots in Harlem and the Bronx that feature First Nation and African vegetables respectively. In addition to photographing the plants, I’ve started filming them as well as their processing and consumption after harvest.
Moving forward, I’d like to stimulate more of my audience’s senses through taste and smell by working with some friends that are chefs. I am also interested in showing the larger cycle from sowing to eating to demonstrate the benefits of cultivating a relationship with the natural world around us.
Eva Mayhabal Davis is arts content editor at Culturework.