Student exhibit examined food insecurity through art

Published 6:41 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

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On Thursday evening, at the SPAM Museum, a special showing was held featuring the art of students at Austin Public Schools.

The exhibit, “A Work of Art — Creating Food Security,” opened up the difficult question of food insecurity to students who examined the issue through art. Those pieces of art, along with essays from the students in the AP World Geography class, were displayed throughout the SPAM Museum and often took an intimate look into the issue through the artistic lens of their own observations.

“We empowered the youth at Austin Public Schools to talk about what food insecurity or security means to them,”said Gema Alvarado-Guerrero, Hometown Food Security Project co-lead. “We’re really using art as a vessel to have them really portray their own definition and bring their families, too.”

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The task of the students was a challenging one and opened more than a few eyes. One of the exhibits featured unvarnished photos of the refrigerators in the homes of students, displayed anonymously but doing no less than drawing back the curtain on the issue itself.

For photography instructor Robin Brown, it was a stark reminder of how widespread the issue is.

“The really vulnerable ones are the refrigerator pictures,” Brown said. “They are kind of amazing to see what the students have in their refrigerators. Some are stocked full of stuff, others with just water. Some are pretty empty.”

It was just as eye-opening for the students who took part in the show. For JB Holtorf, the reach of the food security question stood out to her throughout the project.

“It’s been very interesting,” she said. “I was in two of the classes that had presentations here. I got to learn two different types of directions. It was nice learning about different countries and their problems and how complex food insecurity is.”

The project, a coordination between the Hometown Food Security Project, APS and Hormel Foods, also acted as something like a call to action.

Another student, David Thaung, was drawn to the scope of the issue.

“It’s a big thing really,” he said. “It’s like being a part of a bigger thing than yourself. Sometimes it can be hard, but all in all it just feels good to do something not just for yourself but others.”

Originally planned for last year, the idea came up too late in the year to be fully realized so the exhibit was pushed to this year.

While the importance of the show was to visualize what food insecurity looks like through art, there was also an empowering facet as well.

“I think oftentimes we believe the solutions lie in the hands of the adults,” Alvarado-Guerrero said. “The youth have so much to say and we want to hear their voices too.”

Thursday’s show was a one-time viewing, but the impacts can be lasting. For Brown, the hope that something more could come out of such a project was realized.

“I just became really hopeful that the kids would do something special in the world,” she said. “I think I would hope they would learn (art) really is a language; an expression and cause movement and change the world. I think they’ve kind of seen that with a lot of the work up now.”