A Sonic Tablecloth: Sharing Place-Based Stories of Food and Community

We’re excited to announce that Voice of Witness has been awarded a Creative Work Fund grant to develop our new project, Setting the Table: Stories of Food and Belonging.

The grant supports community organizations collaborating with artists to develop new works of artistic activism. Voice of Witness and artist Elena Botkin-Levy, in partnership with East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, will create a sonic tablecloth that connects Bay Area communities through oral histories centered on food, traditions, and culture in the context of place, migration, and belonging.

After documenting oral histories with immigrant communities, the project will use interactive technology to incorporate audio from interviews into a tablecloth made from illustrated fabric. Activated through touch, the tablecloth will play the audio vignettes in response to participant interaction. The sonic tablecloth will be featured at a series of participatory exhibits and community events in the Bay Area where folks will break bread, listen to stories, and share their own lived experiences.

Food connects people to each other, reveals family and cultural histories, and links us to memories and traditions. Sharing a meal brings people together and is a way to find common ground from which to learn and share stories. For immigrant communities, food can help maintain connections to home and identity, while also bridging the past, present, and future. This project invites audiences to go beyond an appreciation for food to understand its context and build connections with the people behind the cuisines.

This project is inspired by the need to reconsider who gets a “seat at the table” when considering the history and culture of the Bay Area and its communities. Whose voices are valued, and how is the history of a place and its people documented and shared?

Immigrant communities, locally and across the United States, are currently experiencing a tremendous amount of strain, vitriol, and uncertainty in a xenophobic political climate. This project is an opportunity to support nuanced self-representation and narrative change; celebrate immigrant communities and cultures; and promote education, healing, and advocacy through storytelling and connection.

VOW’s education program will also create curricular resources to support the project, developing a lesson plan for teachers that incorporates these themes and the gathered stories.

If you’re a Bay Area organization or event space interested in hosting this initiative and the sonic tablecloth, reach out to: ela@voiceofwitness.org.

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