The Oxy Arts building on the corner of York Boulevard and Armadale Avenue bustled as approximately 400 visitors gathered Sept. 12 to experience a unique visual art display and listen to music. Oxy Arts hosted a gallery exhibition to celebrate the opening of “Breaking Bread in L.A.,” a semester-long, food-themed program.
Gallery visitors sampled glazed donuts from Colorado Donuts and tasted Mexican cuisine from Tierra Caliente, topped with their choice of salsa. Many washed down their food with strawberry or cucumber Agua Fresca. California Island Market, owned by local Highland Park residents, sold an assortment of squash, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini.
Director of Oxy Arts Meldia Yesayan spoke about the Breaking Bread theme for Oxy Arts this semester, which aligns with the launch of a food studies minor at Occidental.
“Ideas of hospitality and openness and welcoming seem to be connected to food,” Yesayan said. “So there was a lot that made it appropriate to have food as our theme for the fall.”
Danielle Cooke (first year), who attended the event, intends to major in politics and is not enrolled in any art classes. She said she appreciates the sense of community Oxy Arts creates.
“I think it’s interesting the way Oxy is engaging with art on a broader scale,” Cooke said. “I have always loved art and felt like spaces that are designed as creative spaces are uniquely accepting and accessible.”
Music and conversation boomed and people socialized as they ate and danced to a special DJ set by nonprofit LA radio station Dublab Future Roots. The set consisted mostly of instrumental music inspired by the tastes of culinary LA, according to an Oxy Arts brochure.
Groups gathered around April Banks’ multi-media art display, “the price of rice.” Her art piece consisted of 200 empty bowls made out of five servings of rice, which represented the amount of food that many families live on in a single day.
iris yirei hu’s piece, “Viewfinder,” was inspired by a poem written by her late friend. hu constructed the artwork with paper she made herself. She said she used plant fibers and compost with elements that had not fully decomposed to comment on the idea of rethinking decay as a part of life.
“My work doesn’t really belong to me,” hu said. “It belongs to my family or my friends and people I work with.”
Yesayan said community involvement is a key aspect of “Breaking Bread.” Over the summer, the Oxy Arts building was home to the exhibition “Compass Rose,” which paired students with Highland Park community members who shared their stories, according to Yesayan.
“Compass Rose was a deep community engagement project,” Yesayan said. “And this is more of an open, engaging semester for everyone to just have a good time and also learn about some of the ways that food connects us.”
Natalia Guerra (senior) manages social media and outreach for Oxy Arts. She was intrigued by the premise of “Breaking Bread” and said food was an important part of her upbringing.
“I think what interests me about ‘Breaking Bread’ is that it is culturally focused and community-based, but the medium through which it’s being expressed is something totally different,” Guerra said. “Whoever thought that you could make art out of food?”
Planning for “Breaking Bread” began at the beginning of summer, according to Guerra. Art and art history professor Amy Lyford said staff and faculty have been working on the Oxy Arts initiative conceptually since 2009.
Lyford teaches an art history class at Occidental titled “Modern and Contemporary Art,” which examines how changing ideas of cultural identity contribute to art and art criticism in the modern and contemporary era. Yesayan said the course is deeply connected to “Breaking Bread.”
Lyford said she thinks it is important to have an artistic space within walking distance of campus. She hopes Oxy Arts will become a hangout spot for students.
“Breaking Bread in L.A.” will continue to host events through Nov. 24. Oxy Arts planned events to align with Occidental curriculum, according to Yesayan. Oxy Arts staff worked with the music department to plan an Afro-Brazilian dance and percussion workshop, which consisted of a hands-on drumming lesson followed by a dance class and a celebration of Brazilian culinary traditions.
Oxy Arts also collaborated with the Media Arts and Culture department to plan a discussion with producers of Broken Bread, the KCET series from which the program derives its name. The panel will feature notable LA chef Roy Choi, who will discuss food equity in LA.
All events are free and open to Occidental students and the public. Oxy Arts on York welcomes visitors Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This article was updated at 9:09 a.m. with the correct number of attendees.