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Castellani exhibits celebrate Western New York’s cultures through food

LEWISTON – The Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University recently opened two new folk art exhibits focusing on the cultural lives of Western New York’s ethnic communities.

A free opening reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. today for both exhibitions – “(Almost) Too Good to Eat: Marking Life Transition with Food” and “Newcomers: Transitions to New Lives.” Both exhibits opened July 14 and will run through Dec. 8.

The diverse ethnicities in the area include Mexican, Hindu, Jewish, Ethiopian, Japanese, Ukrainian and more, and the show celebrates some of the rituals these cultures celebrate with food.

Samples will be available to the public at the opening reception. However, the goodies also will be represented during the show, through photographs, food-related accoutrements and equipment, and some “fake food,” said Carrie Hertz, the museum’s folk arts curator.

Hertz said the show was prompted by another project she has been working on to document wedding traditions in cultures throughout the state.

“I’ve been working a lot with the Bhutanese and Nepali cultures in the area, and I was going to all these weddings and was noticing all the interesting uses of food during the long, elaborate ceremony,” Hertz said. “This was a way to bring a lot of communities together. This show can demonstrate our common humanity.”

“(Almost) Too Good to Eat” focuses on local ritual foods and demonstrates some of the cross-cultural ways that food nourishes not just our bodies, but also our social and spiritual lives, feeding our needs for comfort and communion, Hertz noted.

She said ritual foods are connected to transitional moments, from daily acts of prayer and hospitality to the experience of migration. The exhibit explores the universal role of food as a mediator in different types of human relationships.

The food and art displays include the Mexican Day of the Dead ceremony; Polish Easter lamb cakes and butter lambs; korovai, a Ukrainian wedding bread; European-style wedding cakes from Muscoreil’s; Passover seder; a Japanese tea ceremony; an Ethiopian coffee ceremony; and images from global feasts.

The exhibition is sponsored in part by Melanie’s Sweets Unlimited in Buffalo’s Broadway Market and Muscoreil’s Fine Desserts and Gourmet Cakes of North Tonawanda.

A second exhibit features photography Lukia Costello, an English-as-a-second-language teacher and award-winning photographer.

“Newcomers: Transitions to New Lives” is a series of photographs that showcases the faces of Buffalo’s newest residents, many arriving from countries such as Burma, Somalia and Bhutan.

The series reveals lives in transition and illustrates the resilience of people creating new lives.

Costello’s work has been published locally and nationally and has been featured in publications such as the Los Angeles Journal, Buffalo Spree, Buffalo News and Artvoice.

The exhibitions are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts.

The Castellani, on Lewiston Road on the campus at Niagara University, is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free.