Let Them Eat Cake?

The exhibition Let Them Eat Cake? presents works with the motif of food that Croatian artists have created from the beginnings of Modern to the present day. The exhibition covers works from the second half of the 19th century to the present days. Along with the exhibition a comprehensive catalog is printed and it includes reproductions of all works in the exhibition, as well as expert texts – both art related, and those concerning food through historical, sociological, cultural, political, religious, gastronomic, anthropological and psychological aspect and with this it presents a broader cultural understanding of nutrition in modern civilization.

Today’s society, globally and locally, produces food quantities that are qualitatively and quantitatively immeasurable to any previous civilization, but despite this, a large number of people are starved of hunger and inadequate diet.

Food preparation is sophisticated to the extreme, and its serving and function in social life is ritualized to an epidemic of contradictory phenomena such as eating disorders. While on the one hand the civilization spectrum is suffering, and the excesses of food are thrown away, on the other hand, one dies of starvation. And while the necessity of feeding in every society has developed itself into a completely specific diet culture, so that, for example, global globalization and multiculturalism in the food segment will be reflected as a cuisine of fusion and the development of science as molecular gastronomy; in visual art, the motif of the food developed in the millennium period of traditional artwork into a separate sub genre of still lives, and is used by modern visual artists as a platform for the criticism of civilization and the indicators of the distribution of political and economic power.

The exhibition, named after a famous statement acclaimed to Queen Marie-Antoinette, presents this paradigm shift through the work of Croatian artists in all media where contemporary visual creativity is realized – from traditional art disciplines to photography, video, installations and interactive content. Works from different decades and in different disciplines are set up to complement their aesthetic experience and their level of meaning, so the exhibition, while considering well-known themes, has a powerful educational potential in the evolution of the twentieth century artistic trends.

Food has long been a major global problem. A problem in rich and in poor societies – in societies backed by flourishing economies hundreds of thousands of tons of food are thrown away daily. At the same time, in poorer communities, people are dying of hunger or are suffering from malnutrition.

It was these extremes that prompted us to get involved and to speak out about the global problem of food through an exhibition, to bring out the darker side of food, about which there is still insufficient awareness.  To ensure the project has its rightful effect, we have included in it not only art historians but also a number of scientists, all of whom, in their own scientific domains, have made great contributions through their articles in the exhibition catalogue to an attempt at a broader, culturally-oriented understanding of the place of food in contemporary civilisation.

The exhibition covers works with food-related subjects created by artists from this area since the middle of the 19th century, in all the media in which modern visual creative work is produced – from the traditional visual art disciplines of painting and sculpture to photography, video, installation and interactive features.  All told there are 55 artists, all of whom, in their own time, have left and continue to leave a trace of themselves, put a stamp on the Croatian art scene.

There are, besides Croatian classics such as Becić, Medović, Uzelac, Karas, Gecan, Plančić, Račić, Dulčić, Trepše, Varlaj …also contemporary authors – Braco Dimitrijević, Vlado Martek, Mladen Stilinović, Vlasta Delimar, Tajči Čekada Ljiljana Mihaljević, Mladen Tudor, Ivan Posavec, Mario Kučera, Josip Klarica, Zoran Marinović, Matko Vekić, Bane Milenković, Matko Mijić and many others. Through works that take up the subject of food, the still life genre, we show that art is a component part of everyday life, and has been so, what is more, since time out of mind, for the motif of food has been present in art since at least the Palaeolithic. Our ancient ancestor contrived to make sure of a good hunt in various ways.  One of them was painting the object of his longing on the walls of caves and subterranean shelters.  The hunter-artist of the Palaeolithic painted his food, and his paintings in the caves tell of a unique phenomenon – the appearance of visual art in Palaeolithic man is also the first visual treatment of food, of the still life or nature morte. Isn’t it, then, entirely appropriate to additionally raise awareness of the global problem of food through an exhibition?

And this is the last minute for consciousness-raising. When the facts that tell of the number of hungry children and starving adults as well are looked at, the grim fact appears that nothing essential changed at the beginning of this century in the matter of finding a solution for the problem of global hunger.  According to UN figures, slightly fewer than 520 million hungry or malnourished people live in Asia, about 257 million similarly afflicted in Africa, and about 39 million people in South America and the Caribbean have to live with insufficient quantities of food.

Currently there are about 7.6 billion of us on Earth; in total, food is produced for some 20 billion. How can it possibly be that according to those UN figures, in 2017 there were more than 820 million people who were dying of famine and malnutrition? And it is a cause of grave concern that according to the UN the number of hungry and malnourished people, particularly children, is on the rise for the third year running. The fact is that food is not evenly distributed, for in some countries it’s everywhere you turn and in others you can’t get it for love or money. If food were evenly distributed, it would not happen that in some places, people were dying of hunger while in others food was being thrown away and obesity was rife. This particularly goes for children, for according to some UN data, about 50 million children in the world are vastly overweight, while there are more than 150 million undernourished children.  In adults these figures are much worse even, for obesity affects more than 670 million people, one out of every eight people living on earth.  If we turn to Europe, or to the European Union, the data and statistics are still worse.  For example, a study carried out in 2018 at Edinburgh University shows that the annual costs of food waste in Europe come to an incredible annual 143 billion euros, that more than 50 million tons of fruit and vegetables produced in Europe are thrown away every year.  It is paradoxical because about 1.4 billion hectares of land are used to grow the food that is thrown away and 250 cubic kilometres of water are taken for irrigation. Along with other food that is discarded in Europe, about 90 million tons of completely healthy and useful food ends up in the dumps.  In Croatia alone, for example, about a thousand tons of food are discarded, at an annual level 400 thousand tons, which comes to about 70 to 90 kilos of food per capita.  It is appalling that in the same Europe in which 90 million tons of food are thrown out, there are 125 million poor or those living on the edge of poverty, 3.5 million of them homeless.

These figures are not only grim and devastating statistics, they are a disgrace, the shame of the society of the 21st century, a society in which – in spite of the various technological, scientific and other achievements – there are still hungry people, and still that legendary statement ascribed to French queen Marie Antoinette rings out: “If they have no bread, let them eat cake”.

Professional concept and exhibition set-up: Jasminka Poklečki Stošić and Branko Franceschi.

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