For Cara Purita, food is a feminist issue.
Describing her childhood, the Terrace-based artist said that she can’t remember a time where food and dieting weren’t on the minds of the women around her.
“While I was growing up euphemisms in popular … songs like “Cherry Pie” by Warrant were ubiquitous,” she said, pointing out a disconnect in the expectations of women versus the standards for what was considered socially acceptable with regards to diet and lifestyle.
“Over the years, hearing women referred to as ‘eye candy” and being called ‘honey, sweetie [and] sugar” by strangers relayed the underlying message: women are meant to be dessert, not eat it!”
Purita actually stopped creating art for about 15 years, but when she turned 40 she said she had a revelation: art was something she wanted to do, not for anyone else, but for herself.
“I felt like I really needed to have that part of me back.”
She said that a major inspiration for the show was her own experience with the intersection between food and societal expectations of women, noting that she started dieting (mostly small amounts of candy and meal-replacement shakes) before she was 10.
Throughout her life Purita said she has repeated cycles of dieting and exercising with the end goal of losing weight, as opposed to feeling healthy.
“Even now, when I am very aware [that] my relationship with my body and food could affect the way my daughters feel about themselves, it can be very difficult to resist the temptation to slip back into worrying about what I am ‘allowed’ to eat.”
A number of the paintings in the series portray different views of women’s hands serving pie, something Purita said symbolizes and acknowledges the contrasting societal definitions and expectations with regards to the relationship between women and food.
“Food is both concrete and symbolic, a necessity and a frivolity, something a woman is expected
to provide but not to partake in … [it’s] something into which women are expected to pour their creativity and their love, to make their ‘true work of art’,” she said, adding that The Lily Wallace New American Cookbook promoted making a delicious meal as a way to “keep your husband coming home”.
Purita said that the idea behind the exhibition was to tell a larger story of how society often demands women put their creativity into things for others as opposed into things that are for them.
“It’s something that you spend quite a bit of time doing … you put your heart into it and your love into it and then it’s just devoured, it’s just gone and that’s where I was sort of coming from with that at first, this feeling [that] people just take from you, she said.
As for the pies, while they will always hold a special place in Purita’s life (one of her installations while she was going to school was a baked cherry pie that had a anatomically correct heart barely visible inside) she said that the critiques against them are not exclusive to pies and can apply to the act of cooking for one’s family in general.
Discussing her inspiration for the series, Purita references another quote from The Lily Wallace New American Cookbook that’s never sat right with her: “The true work of art is this lemon meringue pie.”
“It really made me think about how women are expected to put their creativity into things that are for others rather than their own thing.”
And while the subject matter might be bittersweet, she hopes it will leave you with a taste for more on the matter.
Purita’s exhibition “Sweet Offerings” runs at the Smithers Art Gallery until June 15.
Can’t see it there? Check out the gallery below.