Under the sun and along the river, the subtropical sprawl of Brisbane has long been a delicious site to dine. Tastes Like Sunshine, the Museum of Brisbane’s (MoB’s) recent exhibition, samples a selection of this culinary history and contemporary food culture. A mixture of art, photography, historical documents, artefacts and fashion, the exhibition is centred around work from artists Elizabeth Willing, Carol McGregor and Sean Rafferty; some of which has been commissioned specifically for the show.
Drawing inspiration from local food history and culture, the artists in Tastes Like Sunshine have engaged with a diverse set of materials. The most experimental example of this comes from Elizabeth Willing. Using chocolate to draw, charred marshmallows to paint, and local produce to create wallpaper, Willing has playfully engaged with food as both a muse and medium. While as a whole Willing’s work is charming and nostalgic, some pieces provide a conduit to more nuanced and challenging discussions. An example of this is Dark (2017), a chocolate mural that references the darker histories of Queensland’s early sugarcane industry. Sitting alongside a selection of contemporary and historical photographs and paintings, viewers are encouraged to consider the ways in which food, particularly the production of it, has been linked to exploitative practices.
At the centre of the exhibition a collection of intricately illustrated possum cloaks are on display. Black Seeds (2016), a cloak depicting bush tucker native to the Brisbane region, is a work by Brisbane-based artist, facilitator and Wathaurung woman, Carol McGregor. Through her extensive research into the Aboriginal practice of possum cloak making and wearing, McGregor found a history of possum cloaks in South-East Queensland. Dedicated to reviving this traditional craft and cultural practice, McGregor now works closely with the local Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander community to produce collaborative cloaks. An example of this is Bush Tucker (2016), a cloak produced by twenty-two local Indigenous community members. A patchwork of stories and memories, Bush Tucker celebrates the spiritual and cultural significance of native food to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
In the final section of the exhibition Sean Rafferty’s Cartongraphy project fills a room. A colourful display of fruit and vegetable cartons sourced from all over Australia, Rafferty’s collection maps out the way different growing regions depict themselves through the design of their produce cartons. For Tastes Like Sunshine Rafferty has taken part of his collection and provided both physical and digital versions for viewers to explore. Accompanying this archive, his work Market Place (2017) further explores the systems and culture that underpin the distribution of fresh produce around Australia. Making use of the quirky cast of characters featured in many of the designs, Rafferty’s collaged scene of ‘cool bananas’, ‘happy oranges’ and ‘ginger ninjas’, captures the bustling energy and strong personalities of Brisbane’s produce markets where he has recently been an artist in residence.
Considering the size of the exhibition and the scope of the theme, Tastes Like Sunshine has done well to cover a variety of perspectives. The program for the show further adds to this by providing dinners, talks, food tours, gardening workshops and more, that encourage viewers to experience the diversity and richness of local food scenes first hand. Having attended the artist talks, it was clear that the works benefitted from additional explanation and discussion. This was particularly true for Rafferty, whose approach to sourcing, cataloguing and curating his collection was fascinating.
With MoB catering to a broad audience, exhibitions that appeal to all, or at least the majority, can be tricky. In the past the Museum has generally tackled this challenge by providing a mix of shows that cover contemporary art, history and community issues. However, in Tastes Like Sunshine it appears the Museum has chosen to incorporate all their audiences’ interests into one exhibition. Whilst this may soften the edginess of the contemporary art, it is effective in providing viewers a variety of access points to the multiple perspectives on show.
Overall, Tastes Like Sunshine celebrates the way in which the people of Brisbane have, and continue to embrace food as a way to express and define their unique subtropical city and surrounds. An easy and accessible show, Tastes Like Sunshine provides an assortment of art and stories that capture a resourceful and inventive community.
Sean Rafferty, Cartonograph (Market Place), 2017. Cardboard fruit cartons, timber and fixtures. Photograph Jo Thies.
Brisbane Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members and Carol McGregor (Wathaurung, artist, facilitator), Bush Tucker, 2017. Possum skins, cotton, ochre, ash, resin and binder. Photograph Jo Thies.
Elizabeth Willing, Dark, 2017. Dark chocolate. Photograph David Kelly.
Sean Rafferty, Market Place, 2017. Giclee prints on paper on cardboard, timber and acrylic. Photograph Jo Thies.