Food for Thought: Design & Making [the story of food]

  • Posted: Jun 24, 2014

A World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 project, the exhibition, Design & Making [the story of food]is a collaboration between the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI) and Iziko’s Social History Collections department. This thought-provoking exhibition traces the evolution of design through food, with a particular focus on the vessels used for its storage, preservation, packaging and distribution. Historical vessels of African, European and Asian origin are shown alongside contemporary objects created by designer-makers from the Western Cape.

The Castle of Good Hope was the perfect backdrop to the exhibition launch on 14 May 2014. The elements were kind too, as it turned out to be a perfect wind-still evening with a full moon rising. Bongani Ndhlovu, Iziko’s Executive Director Core Functions, welcomed guests and expressed his delight in Iziko’s partnership with the CCDI, as it highlights similar involvement with aspects of creativity, history and the contemporary world. Lianne Burton presented the keynote address, and touched on the relevance of museums, galleries and exhibitions, and the power of stories in helping us understand ourselves. (A transcript of her address is provided below.)

Echoing the theme of the exhibition, guests at the opening event were treated to nibbly bits suspended from the trees in front of Secunde’s House, and cocktails presented in ostrich eggshells. Eats were served in edible bowls and small tins, as well as delectable wine from specially made recycled glasses.

Iziko’s collaboration with the CCDI started about a year ago. Together with the CCDI’s Judy Bryant, curators from Iziko Social History Collections have been highlighting objects from their collections in Roots and Shoots, a series of monthly articles in the CCDI's newsletter. The collaboration developed into an exciting partnership, which has culminated in the exhibition, Design & Making [the story of food]. Iziko's rich and diverse historical collections were a perfect anchor for this exhibition, providing context and a springboard for an exhibition on issues of modern design.

The exhibition fits perfectly with Iziko's World Design Capital project, under the banner, 'Igniting Collections', in which we set out to nurture links between our museum collections and our audiences and communities. A further aim was to create awareness of our heritage and contemporary creative production, as well as platforms for engagement on contemporary issues. It has therefore been a pleasure to bring out many of our rarely-aired objects, in the form of food vessels and containers, for public viewing.

Design & Making [the story of food]was project managed by the CCDI’s Marjorie Naidoo; with exhibition designer Aidan Bennetts, independent consultants Rayda Becker and June Hosford, Esther Esmyol and Wieke van Delen of Iziko, and Vikki du Preez of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, forming the curatorial team. The exhibition is on view in the Iziko Good Hope Gallery at the Castle until 12 October 2014.


Design & Making [the story of food] – Keynote address by Lianne Burton

Good evening everyone

Thanks for the opportunity to say a few words at the opening of this unique exhibition.

‘Design & Making – The Story of Food’ is an incredibly well considered exhibition that can certainly speak for itself.

And so, rather than try and give you a potted version of its significance and scope in the short time I have, I’d like to talk about the relevance of museums, galleries and exhibitions more generally, and the power of stories to help us understand ourselves.

I have an 11-year old son who spends much of his time exploring a virtual world via his laptop, iPad and smart phone.

Were he to ask me to tell him the story of food, or explain the connection between design and making, I would probably advise him to ‘Google it’.

Although my own background is in print journalism – and since I can remember I have had a passion for books, magazines and the reassuring tangibility of objects – I have gradually become a digital citizen, much like my son.

Yet, when people proclaim that ‘print is dead’, I sense they are wrong.

Certainly, the Internet is an infinite and accessible source of information.

It is also overwhelming and incoherent – an endless, mind-boggling labyrinth; a chaotic repository of information fragments.

In an age of information overload, what we all yearn for is context and meaning. For this reason, when people question the relevance of museums – sometimes even declaring them ‘dead’ – I sense, again, that they are wrong.

As an exercise, I Googled ‘the story of food’.

What came up on the first page were almost exclusively very recent articles and videos exploring current issues and controversies – in particular, genetically modified organisms – or, GMO.

Certainly, this is one very relevant dimension of the contemporary food story. But all of the entries on Google’s first page were from the northern hemisphere.

And nowhere did I find an entry about an ostrich eggshell vessel used by the earliest hunter-gatherers to carry their supplies.

Google favours the contemporary, the immediate and the newsworthy.

I have to ask: Is this the only world I would like my son to discover?

Let me contrast my Google search with the curatorial team’s introduction to ‘Design & Making – The story of food’, as outlined in their catalogue.

By way of context, they describe their conceptual journey, beginning with an ambitious vision to ‘reflect the broadest possible view and expression of design through the centuries’, and gradually distilling this to an approach that is multi-dimensional and object-based, through the particular and universally relevant lens of food.

They explain the exhibition in terms of layers of meaning, spanning:

  • Necessity
  • Trade
  • Luxury
  • Industry
  • Science
  • Art

The sheer breadth and depth of this enquiry reminds me of an article called ‘Culture at the Crossroads’, by theologian and teacher Tim Muldoon.

He says: ‘Culture is the ongoing conversation of peoples reaching for the transcendent: questions like "what changes, and what remains the same?" and "how shall we live?"’

He goes on to say: ‘That feeling of smallness is something I hope to cultivate in my students, for it is that sense of participating in a larger story that is, I believe, a prerequisite for citizenship. It's easy to lose sight of that larger story in a world of blogs and tweets – the fast pace of the information age demands constant attention to the now at the expense of the always.’

Muldoon concludes that: ‘Today, the new challenge is to discern the elements of culture that help us to deepen the long conversation.’

And this is where museums really come into their own.

Charles Landry, author of Culture at the Crossroadsand The Creative City, has said that museums, at their best, can ‘show us the routes that reconnect us to our roots’.

In a lecture given in 2003 in Copenhagen, he said: ‘Museums and galleries can tell us who we are, where we have come from and where we might be going. They do this through storytelling; a story that fits us – our community, our city, our country, our cultures and even our worlds – into a bigger human and natural history, showing us connections, bridges and threads that can enrich our understanding.’

‘By triggering imagination, museums entice us to explore, so providing opportunities for testing out, for chance encounter, for discovery and also inventing things afresh.’

‘Objects lying dormant – especially for the uninitiated – rarely speak for themselves, and so are unable to show their relevance. This highlights the need for interpretation. The caring curatorial role expands, using knowledge to explain, to edit and select, to interpret.’

‘There is a special ‘museumness’ about museums:

  • A place of anchorage, which is why so often in a world that speeds ahead of us, we see museums as refuges or places of reflection.
  • A place of connection so enabling understanding of our pasts and possible futures.
  • A place of possibility by letting us scour the resources of the past and memories to stimulate us to twist them to the contemporary condition.
  • A place of inspiration to remind us of the visions, ideals and aspirations we have made for ourselves and continue to make.
  • A place of learning… as, when these things come together, we know more about ourselves, our surroundings, what things work or don’t work and how things could be made better.’

This is why museums are so important when it comes to early learning and lifelong learning.

Washington’s Institute of Museums and Library Services describes them as ‘trusted places where children make discoveries, deepen common interests, expand words and knowledge, and connect their natural curiosity to the wider world.’

Neuroscientists tell us that the type of learning that occurs in these institutions – self-directed, experiential, content-rich – promotes skills that can shape a child’s success in school and life. These experiences and interactions build brains and fuel a love of learning.’

I have always viewed Cape Town’s World Design Capital designation as an opportunity for us to tell new stories about our city, country and continent – to the world, and, perhaps more importantly, to ourselves – stories of African innovation, resourcefulness and creativity.

Nigerian born writer, Ben Okri, is widely quoted as saying: ‘Stories are the secret reservoirs of values. Change the stories individuals and nations live by and tell themselves, and you change individuals and nations.’

In closing, I’d like to thank: Erica Elk and Rooksana Omar; the curatorial teams of the Cape Craft and Design Institute and Iziko; and the wide group of creative collaborators – who have all contributed to telling this boldly ambitious, multi-dimensional, fascinating and expansive story of food, design and making.

The best way to reward their efforts is to spread the word that this is an exhibition everyone should experience; a story everyone will enjoy.

Thank you.

For a link to the full Charles Landry speech, please go to:

For a link to Tim Muldoon’s article entitled‘Culture at the Crossroads’, please see:

blog comments powered by Disqus