An Art of Sustenance: Francisco Guevara and Edible Art as Identity Politics
by Eric Castillo, Ph.D.
Artist Francisco Guevara creates works of art that demonstrate a powerful understanding of art and collectivity. Paying remarkable attention to the relationship between seemingly oppositional elements–sustenance and deprivation, sacrifice and indulgence, performance and audience–Guevara renders legible their intimate connectedness. His ability to perceive of their differences as the raw material for community building allows his art to traverse various physical and ideological borders. This thought-provoking and unique artistic sensibility is nuanced and accessible to both art circles and other communities. Establishing himself as a transnational artist, Guevara’s art authors an impressive and cutting edge trans-border aesthetic.
Guevara’s 2009 edible installation/performance “El Jardín de las Delicias” in Albuquerque, New Mexico brought together graduate students from the University of New Mexico to explore issues of race, gender, and collective identity. Produced out of conversations in a graduate seminar, Guevara used regional cuisine and natural elements to create a space for the consumption of delicacies and each other’s identities. Inspired by the Nazari gardens, the Garden of Eden, and various symbols, “El Jardin de las Delicias” served as a modern day Eden where audience members met to indulge in “earthly delights” while expressing their identities and their relationship to the symbols and food. Of interest in this installation was not only the consumption of the art/food but the performance and interaction by audience members.
Walking into the garden and eating the food became central to the installation’s meaning. The art and the food were meant to be explored, shared, and consumed; the garden itself became a remarkable visual landscape. Guevara understood the importance of tranquil space in producing performance-based art. By inviting audience members to participate in the dialogue, nostalgia, and consumption of earthly desires, “El Jardín de las Delicias” became an art of motion and dialogue that was not contained by the walls of the building. Audience members became part of the edible installation by exploring and consuming the art and thus creating a unique collective identity with the art and each other.
Francisco Guevara’s artistic renderings of dichotomous elements also surface in other edible artworks. In “Structures,” food takes center stage in a rather paradoxical fashion. A collaborative project with Chef Monica Jiménez, the sculptures showcase edible arrangements from strawberries to herb forests. Cuisine and identity are interwoven in an attempt to express relationships between food, nature, and identity.
Both from Puebla, Mexico, Guevara and Jiménez express their shared cultural, regional, and aesthetic perspectives in a rather paradoxical way. The perceived inability to consume the products intrigued audience members to think about how food and identity are produced for consumption even when rendered structurally and practically static and unattainable. This sculptural exploration of Mexican cuisine allows viewers to revel in the love of food and its significance in constructing a meaningful identity with one’s community and the land we inhabit.
Guevara writes, “The power of a work of art is determined not only by how successfully it allows the viewer to exist within the space it defines, but also by establishing a dialogue and asking how that existence is possible. I believe art is relevant when the personal experience converges with collectivity, when individuality acquires a broader meaning incorporating new perspectives to the collective discourse” (https://franciscoguevaraart.wordpress.com). When creating art, Francisco considers relationships between the artist, the art, the audience, and the medium. To truly create dialogue, all relations must find a common ground. Francisco Guevara creates that space through a combination various nurturing devices–food, nature, community, and art. His art is a tool for creating meaningful dialogue about identity politics; the incentive for audience members is their ability to engage with and participate in furthering the creation of art and dialogue.