Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art’s new exhibit explores food insecurity

Norfolk

VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) — Globs of white, blue, and green paint, smoothed out as the brush meets the canvas. A masterpiece in the making by award winning-artist Clayton Singleton.

“This piece is called ‘Far from Manna,” Singleton said.

The passengers on the bus are on their way to a place inaccessible to them in their own neighborhood, a grocery store.

“It’s my interpretation of communication some aspects about food deserts,” Singleton added.

This artwork is a collaboration with the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of their latest exhibit, Nourish.

“We commissioned 12 area artists to partner with a local food expert. Some paint, some sculpt. The nice thing is it seems across the board the artists have all really pushed themselves and gone further in their artistic practice,” said co-curators Alyson Byrne and Heather Hakimzadeh.

“I didn’t want to read about what was going on. I wanted to hear about what was going on and I wanted to talk to the people who experienced this thing,” Singleton said.

And that he did, by taking a bus ride to the grocery store. Even hosting a roundtable discussion with his sister, Sherri Williams, and her neighbors in the St. Paul’s neighborhood in Norfolk. They’ve had a difficult time since the closing of the Save A Lot grocery store off of Church Street back in June of 2020. 

“Being that we don’t have the store in our area, most of the people out here in our community, are traveling from cabs, buses, they’re asking folks to carry them to the store. So it’s big inconvenience, not only the store, but getting there and getting your groceries home,” Williams said.

Singleton also reached out to the St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation, a non-profit whose goal is to improve the quality of life for families and individuals through stability and education. They stepped in to provide aid to residents after the Save A Lot closing.

“St. Paul’s CDC worked with other organizations and with residents to do a food distribution over two weekends that distributed about 24,000-25,000 pounds of food,” said Vice-Presidents of St. Paul’s CDC, Leahmarie Gottlieb.

Leahmarie adds that hosting food drives are just temporary fixes, and the only way to solve an issue is to get to the root of it.

“The pandemic of racism, the pandemic of lack of food access, those pandemics have been going on for many, many, many years.”

Which is what Singleton hopes to shed light on with his painting one brush stroke at time. 

“You see the people on the bus who lives in an area who doesn’t have food near them. That’s what you see, but you don’t see the history of why they’re even there. They look like these pretty lavender lines, but under that is the map of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. You can’t see the redlining that was done here in the City of Norfolk that contained Black people,” Singleton added.

And unfortunately Singleton believes those lines have evolved into walls that leaders in the community are refusing climb over.

“I don’t know if we truly put ourselves in the place of other people and I believe if we did that enough, parts of how we feel about people would start to change.”

For Singleton, a change of heart will translate into a change in appetite and create a hunger for change within the leaders of our community, pushing them to provide the sustainable nourishment for all. 

Nourish is now display at the Virginia MOCA from now through June 6.

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