In The Kitchen with Aunt Jemima


Author: Sean Palmer

With each Wall installation in the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, we intend to tease out nuances in Black livelihood.  With our latest Wall exhibit, we are asking questions about the relationship between Black women and the kitchen.  In this day and age where Black women (and their creative hands) in the kitchen seem to be the new rage. The recent discovery of “southern food ways,” and its popularity through places like Washington, DC’s B.Smith’s Restaurant, or New Jersey’s Deltas Restaurant are indicative of this phenomenon.  Thus, we invite our audience to think about the salient images that continue to mythologize Black women.  One such image is the notorious Aunt Jemima, who was slavery’s patron kitchen saint, making buttermilk biscuits and pancakes and all sorts of “down home delicacies.”  While many a Black person can attest to the wonderful comfort foods dreamed up in the kitchens of our dear mothers (and fathers), we hold in this tension the powerful thoughts of one 19th century sister, Maria Stewart: to paraphrase, “why must sisters continue to bury their heads under cookware?”  Our wall, replete with pots and pans, holds both legendary black women culinary artists and racialized stereotypes together.  Using bright red to create a metaphor for both hunger and anger, and an equally bright yellow as a metaphor for shedding light, this Wall intends to imagine how Black women continue to redefine themselves in spite of the stereotypes being used as a trope to re-emphasize oppressive forces at the intersection of race and gender.