Oklahoma Contemporary
Thirty Nine Restaurant
Grilled strips of corn are curled up on a white plate. We can see fresh greens and behind and on top. A red powder is sprinkled on top and on the plate.

New Light

April 04, 2023

Invisible Contributions: A Meaningful Discussion on Indigenous Art and Food

“We have to get real about the food we eat and what we’re doing to the planet.”

What does food sovereignty look like in the 21st century? How have Indigenous foodway practices shifted over time? What has impacted them? How do we fix it?

Two framed prints hang on a white wall. They are framed in a light tan colored wooden frame. On the left, the print is a black and white image of a skull growing from a cornstalk against a black sky. The right, a black and white salmon in a river.
Neal Ambrose-Smith's The World According to Monsanto (2014) and Corwin "Corky" Clairmont's Tarsand Trout (2014)

Community conversation sits at the core of The Art of Food: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. The Art of Food: In Conversation continues those discussions through an Oklahoma lens.

“We wanted to have a conversation with two Indigenous artists — one coming from a culinary background and the other coming from a visual arts background — to see where practices intersect, but also how they treat Indigenous culture, history and the contemporary representation of Indigenous foods and practices,” says Curator of Public Programs and Performance Marie Casimir.

This Thursday, April 6, on-view artist Neal Ambrose-Smith (Salish/Cree/Shoshone descent) and chef Loretta Barrett Oden (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) will come together for an in-depth, informal discussion, moderated by local food and culture writer Greg Horton.

A person is laying their head on a stack of pancakes, facing the camera. They have small rectangle glasses and some grey and black stubble.
Greg Horton

“As someone who teaches college classes about culture via the humanities and writes about food, I'm excited that the program brings together two of my favorite things, and emphasizes something I've long believed: Food is culture,” Horton says. “Talking to chef Loretta and Neal about the evening, it's clear that they both have thought deeply about the relationship between food, culture and art, and their insights on First Americans’ identity and culture are genuinely transformative.”

Ambrose-Smith, Oden and Horton will look at the artists’ careers and engage in an expansive conversation about creativity, consumption and indigeneity.

“So often in Indigenous foodways, or even contemporary art practices, people only want to look at the historical aspects of Indigenous culture,” Casimir says. “In this talk, we want to look at the origins and history, but also, what are the contemporary practices and what’s happening right now.”

What do contemporary practices mean in terms of the food people are consuming daily? How are they tied to Indigenous culture and histories? How do we have a conversation about it?

Two people are looking at art hanging on a white wall. There are three visible pieces: two black prints of a corn field with a skull and a salmon swimming, the other a black rectangle plate.
Installation view of The Art of Food

In Ambrose-Smith’s work in The Art of Food, a skull appears to grow from a cornstalk. The title of the print, The World According to Monsanto, directly references the investigative documentary about the Monsanto Company, an agrochemical giant and American corporation with a history of manipulative agriculture practices through genetic seed modification. Within this print and its accompanying counterpart, Corwin “Corky” Clairmont’s Tarsand Trout, lies a serious point about the ways Native American communities were forced from their lands, and in turn, those lands and waters were contaminated.

“Though Neal is from a completely different part of the country, the same thing has happened to us here in Oklahoma,” Oden says. “I grew up in a time where there were not just genetically modified corn fields around, but there were farmers everywhere, growing cotton, growing watermelons, growing tomatoes. You could drive down the road and there would be little fruit and vegetable stands, in-season produce, the way we used to eat, in season. But now, things are shipped in from who knows where, how are they grown, with what kind of fertilizers.”

A diptych of two people. Left: A woman with short white hair and bright blue eyes, dressed in a chef coat. Left: Man in a wide-brim tan hat, brown jacket and white button up. Both are smiling softly.
Chef Loretta Barrett Oden and artist Neal Ambrose-Smith

Oden has worked with the First Americans Museum since the early 2000s, acting as the consulting chef for its Thirty Nine Restaurant since the museum’s opening in 2021.

“We pay homage to the 39 tribes that now call Oklahoma home through our ingredients base,” Oden says. “These peoples came literally from all over North America to this one parcel of land, to what I call the belly button of North America. But that gave such a vast number of ingredients that I can pull from — not that I have to focus on the Oklahoma state dish of chicken-fried steak and gravy. I can pull from all of these tribes’ original homelands and bring them here to tell the story of our people, our culture, through their original foods.”

At Thursday’s program, guests can snack on Thirty Nine’s iconic sage popcorn, both an on-brand treat for the event and another spotlight on Indigenous foods.

A close up shot of popcorn with green powder sprinkled on top. It is sage popcorn.
Thirty Nine Restaurant's sage popcorn

“Something that I think is present in both Neal and Loretta’s work is highlighting things that are probably often invisible to people,” Casimir says. “For example, we are going to have bags of sage popcorn available at the end of the event. What we don’t realize is popcorn is Native American, so that’s something that may not be part of public consciousness. I would call that invisible contributions; both Neal and Loretta feature that, whether it be in their cuisine or in their art.”

Free tickets for The Art of Food: In Conversation, in our Te Ata Theater from 7-8 p.m. Thursday, are going fast! All are welcome, but space is limited — reserve yours and join us.


Thirty Nine Restaurants corn ribs. Photo courtesy the restaurant.

Neal Ambrose-Smith's The World According to Monsanto (2014) and Corwin "Corky" Clairmont's Tarsand Trout (2014) in The Art of Food: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. Photo: Ann Sherman.

Greg Horton. Photo courtesy Horton.

Installation view of The Art of Food: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, including Neal Ambrose-Smith's The World According to Monsanto (2014), Corwin "Corky" Clairmont's Tarsand Trout (2014) and Jenny Holzer's Survival Series: If You're Considered Useless No One Will Feed You Anymore (1983-1984). Photo: Cassandra Watson.

Chef Loretta Barrett Oden. Photo: Corrigan Tyrel. Artist Neal Ambrose-Smith. Photo courtesy the artist.

Thirty Nine Restaurant's sage popcorn. Photo courtesy the restaurant.

Tags tags
artist talk community indigenous art food The Art of Food public progams

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