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Theaster Gates launching food pop-up at the Nasher influenced by Japan, the African American South

A neon sign from the Afro Mingei project.
Nasher Sculpture Center
Theaster Gates is opening a new food pop-up at the Nasher Sculpture Center "Afro Mingei" at the intersection of Japanese and African American culture.

Gates will combine cuisine with artwork and music in the participatory work ‘Afro Mingei.’

Artist Theaster Gates will open a new project at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas this month, giving visitors the chance to taste dishes influenced by Japan and the African American South on a table made by the artist, while listening to music curated by him and viewing his other artwork.

Afro Mingei will be open to the public from Nov. 16 to April 29, 2023. Its menu will include dishes such as “cornmeal dumplings with shitake leek broth and kabocha squash, or karaage chicken with green tomato chow chow and remoulade” served on ceramics made by the manufacturing arm of Gates’ studio, Dorchester Industries. A tea service and other beverages like Japanese whiskeys will be available.

Gates, the 2018 Nasher Prize winner, has created work at the intersection of Black and Japanese culture including a project this summer in Japan in which he transformed a former earthenware pipe factory into a Japanese-style house for the Aichi Triennale, one of the largest international art festivals in the country. The installation featured work inspired by artist Agnes Martin and scholar-activist W.E.B. DuBois.

“Through this work, he continues to refuse traditional binaries of black and white and instead leans into the truth of his story, and his ongoing dialogue with Japanese philosophy and creative craft,” the Nasher said in a press release.

Afro Mingei will feature Gates’ work across multiple disciplines. It will include a communal table and bar created by Gates and his team from salvaged wood in Chicago and a DJ booth with selections from Gates’ own soul and R&B collection.

“The term Afro Mingei, coined by Gates, connects the word for the iconic Black hairstyle that served as a symbol of Black identity and empowerment in the 1960s and 1970s and the Japanese term mingei that was conceived by philosopher Soetsu Yanagi and ceramists Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai to describe and honor the realm of humble objects of daily use made by unknown craftspeople,” according to the Nasher.

Gates — for whom the term "Renaissance man" is an understatement — is no stranger to innovative ventures. The social practice artist, who also teaches at the University of Chicago, focuses on land development and the transformation of spaces to explore Blackness and Black spaces through international performances, sculptures and exhibitions. You also may have seen him on Dua Lipa's Instagram story.

He is the founder of the Rebuild Foundation, a platform that works in the South Side of Chicago to provide free arts programming, new arts amenities and affordable housing for artists.

He’s also linked to big names like luxury fashion house Prada, his partner in The Design Lab, a three-year program to provide mentorship and support for designers of color.

Earlier this year, Gates made history as the first artist, not architect, to create his own installation, the Black Chapel, at the Serpentine Pavilion in London. He is the co-founder of the Black Artists Retreat (B.A.R), an annual gathering of Black artists in Chicago, and often plays with his band The Black Monks. Their work draws from Black music of the South, blues, gospel, wailing and Eastern monastic traditions.

The food pop-up will be open to the public from Nov. 16, 2022 to April 29, 2023 from 4 p.m. - 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter/Producer. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.