Art and agriculture are powerful ways to nourish both the body and soul. They can transcend cultural borders to reveal human creativity and ingenuity.
Many artists and organizations today combine food and art to promote humanitarian issues like food sustainability, environmental health, and social justice. Hip hop artist and vegan lifestyle advocate DJ Cavem tells Food Tank, “We gotta use art for social change. Not only for the conscious consumption but for the mind and mentally-edible spiritual hip hop.”
Here are Food Tank’s picks for 29 notable artists and organizations working to add arts and culture back into agriculture!
1. Søren Aagaard – Copenhagen, Denmark
Danish chef and artist Søren Aagaard pairs multimedia art installations with thematically related meals to explore the connection between culinary history and human culture. He co-founded the Copenhagen-based YEARS art gallery and restaurants Okto and Foodoir to showcase his multidisciplinary approach to art and cooking. Aagaard’s boundary-defying work and cuisine have been featured in art galleries, film festivals, communal spaces, and the Roskilde Music Festival.
2. A L T O – Alto Paraiso, Brazil
The A L T O residency program brings artists deep into the Brazilian Highlands to embrace the connection between art and sustainable ecology. The program’s artists create nature-inspired work while actively restoring their environment through gardening, recycling, composting, and solar energy harvesting. The residency program has hosted award-winning artists and artisans including photographers, painters, furniture designers, and bioarchitects.
3. Astro – Seoul, South Korea
In 2020, Korean Pop (K-Pop) boy band Astro became the official face of South Korean food. The K-Pop sensation starred in government-sponsored advertising campaigns promoting South Korean agricultural exports. Astro leverages their global popularity and K-Pop’s multimedia dominance to bolster the South Korean agricultural community and economy.
4. The Branch – Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan-based artist residency program The Branch hosts international artists to explore sustainability through environmental-focused exhibitions. The art space, community garden, and cafe promotes an ecological philosophy through neighborhood outreach, workshops, and experiential art installations. In 2018, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) recognized The Branch for significant contributions to the field of environmental arts.
5. Center for the Study of Force Majeure – Santa Cruz, California, US
Based in Santa Cruz, CA, the Center for the Study of Force Majeure is artist Newton Harrison’s over 40-year collaboration with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners, and artists. The eco-art pioneer’s multidisciplinary installations examine ecological health, food sustainability, and humans’ relationship with Earth’s natural resources. The Center’s science-based work has received numerous grants, awards, and has helped inform official government policy worldwide.
6. Cooking Sections – London, England
London-based duo Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe—known as Cooking Sections—explore the ecological ramifications of human consumption through multidisciplinary art installations. The pair creates site-specific installations that highlight human impacts on the environment and offer novel ideas to foster sustainable relationships. Their long-running, experiential, and constantly evolving exhibitions have earned them the Future Generation 2019 Art Prize and the Harvard Graduate School of Design 2020 Wheelwright Prize.
7. DJ Cavem – Denver, Colorado, US
With songs about climate change, food justice, and veganism, Denver-based rapper, activist, educator, and vegan chef DJ Cavem stewards an entirely unique genre of music: eco-hip hop. Through his numerous entrepreneurial pursuits, DJ Cavem spreads his plant-centric message to address issues of food sustainability, climate change, and food justice – especially targeting inner cities and vulnerable youth. The multifaceted artist has championed his musical activism with high-profile appearances, including Oprah Magazine, the Rachael Ray Show, and the Obama White House.
8. Rocky Dawuni – Ghana, Africa
Ghanian singer, songwriter, and producer Rocky Dawuni promotes numerous humanitarian causes through a prolific musical and activist career. Dawuni highlights issues of environmental sustainability and food insecurity through activism and uplifting Afrobeat music. The artist has been named the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Goodwill Ambassador to Africa and Global Ambassador to the U.N. Foundation Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA). Dawuni has been honored for his humanitarian work at events such as the U.N. Global Climate Action Summit, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Global Landscapes Forum, and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights “Ripple of Hope” Awards.
9. Fallen Fruit – Los Angeles, California, US
Beginning with a map of fruit trees in Los Angeles, CA, David Burns and Austin Young founded the Fallen Fruit art project to contextualize fruit as powerful symbols of community and sustainability. The artists use fruit trees as a medium to create multimedia installations, distribute food, design urban spaces, and support protests. Fallen Fruit’s work has earned numerous awards and press in publications like The New York Times, NPR, and The Huffington Post.
10. Fertile Ground – Jackson, Mississippi, US
Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue About Food Access is a policy initiative, multidisciplinary art project, and documentary film addressing food insecurity in Jackson, Mississippi. The project aims to reform the city’s food access network through urban design, community engagement, and collaborative art projects. Multimedia art installations are placed throughout the city to highlight food apartheid and historical redlining policies. Through Fertile Ground’s urban renewal efforts, the city has built urban gardens, established farm-to-table restaurants, and created municipal food access initiatives.
11. FoodCultura – Barcelona, Spain
FoodCultura is a non-profit organization based in Barcelona, Spain that explores the impact of global food culture on human society and the environment. Founded by Catalan artist Antoni Miralda, FoodCultura uses multidisciplinary research and interactive art installations to promote food sustainability by challenging cultural values, identities, and traditions. Miralda’s extensive and food-focused career was recognized with the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture 2018 Velázquez Prize for Plastic Arts.
12. Futurefarmers – San Francisco, California, US
Founded by San Francisco-based artist and designer Amy Franceschini, Futurefarmers is a design studio and international collective of artists, anthropologists, farmers, and architects who critically analyze food systems. The collaborative project creates art installations that aim to provoke thoughtful discussion around issues of food sustainability, food policy, public transportation, and agriculture. Futurefarmers’ work has been exhibited at institutions and events around the world, including New York, Rome, Taipei, Oslo, and Sharjah.
13. Fernando García-Dory – Madrid, Spain
Fernando García-Dory is a Madrid-based artist whose background in fine art, sociology, and agroecology informs a multidisciplinary approach to creating sustainable food systems. García-Dory uses nature as his canvas to construct constantly evolving art installations based on the natural ecology of their environments. His long-running projects have garnered him numerous grants and awards, including the Creative Time 2012 Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change, and the Radio and Television of Spain 2012 Critical Eye Award for Plastic Arts.
14. Jan van Eyck Academie – Maastricht, Netherlands
The Jan van Eyck Academie is a research center and artist residency program that explores environmental sustainability through multidisciplinary art installations. The organization’s Food Lab unites artists and chefs to create socially-conscious cuisine addressing issues of sustainable agriculture, food security, and identity. The academy hosts the annual Food Art Film Festival to highlight environmentally-focused international films. The 2018 edition of the festival partnered with Xiamen, China-based arts organization C-Platform.
15. Arjun Kapoor – Mumbai, India
Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor tackles climate change and food sustainability through brand ambassadorships and entrepreneurial pursuits. In 2016, Kapoor promoted the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as the Indian Ambassador to the advocacy-driven music festival Global Citizen in New York, NY. Additionally, Kapoor serves as brand ambassador to the India branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF India) and is a co-investor in Delhi-based online meal delivery service FoodCloud which focuses on gender parity and food sustainability.
16. Labva – Valdivia, Chile
Labva is a laboratory, research center, and kitchen that synthesizes novel biomaterials out of natural resources and food waste. The laboratory’s artists and scientists design consumer goods out of the biomaterials to recirculate food waste back into the Southern Chilean economy. Labva’s work has earned international press and a 2020 Beyond Plastic Award from BeyondPlastic.net—an online, global initiative to reduce plastic use.
17. Paul McCartney – London, England
Singer and songwriter Paul McCartney has been a passionate food activist for decades. McCartney founded the non-profit Meat Free Monday campaign in 2009 to highlight the connection between meat consumption, climate change, and food sustainability. In 2017, McCartney produced and debuted the short film “One Day A Week” to highlight his campaign’s message ahead of the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. Through his campaign, McCartney has discussed the need for food policy reformation with leaders in the European Parliament, the United Nations, and government officials around the world.
18. Moby – Los Angeles, California, US
Electronic-music innovator Moby has worked tirelessly to advance the vegan movement throughout his multi-platinum-selling career. The artist regularly supports food sustainability and animal rights organizations using profits from his studio records, live performances, personal memoirs, and plant-based restaurant Little Pine. Moby also founded the Circle V Festival in 2016 as the first-ever music festival with exclusively vegan performers. All proceeds benefited the animal rights organization Mercy For Animals.
19. Jen Monroe – Brooklyn, New York, US
Brooklyn-based chef and food stylist Jen Monroe creates multisensory experiences using unique meals and visual displays. Through her interactive project Bad Taste, Monroe uses specialized cooking and design techniques to explore the nature of human consumption and its relation to modern aesthetics and cultural values. Monroe’s finely-crafted delicacies and engagement on issues of climate change, food sustainability, and industrial agriculture have earned her press in outlets like The New York Times, Vogue, and The American Scholar.
20. Youssou N’Dour – Senegal, West Africa
Senegalese singer and songwriter Youssou N’Dour uses his platform as one of Africa’s biggest music stars to promote humanitarian causes across his home country and continent. As the Goodwill Ambassador to the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), N’Dour has advocated for programs that address food insecurity across Africa. The artist’s music and political activism have earned him a seat in the Senegalese government as Minister of Culture and Tourism, and the Praemium Imperiale Award from the Japan Art Association.
21. People’s Kitchen Collective – Oakland, California, US
Based in Oakland, CA, the People’s Kitchen Collective brings together artists, poets, researchers, and activists to create culinary experiences that provoke discussion about human rights issues. The collective hosts both intimate meals and large-scale gatherings that highlight Indigenous recipes, histories, and traditions. Their Bay Area outreach has garnered press in The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Bon Appétit, as well as the 2021 Creative Capital Award.
22. Poetry X Hunger – Maryland, US
Poetry X Hunger is an organization that unites powerful voices from around the world to spread awareness of the global hunger crisis. The group aggregates poetry to provide a valuable content database for anti-hunger organizations and readers alike. In partnership with the FAO, Poetry X Hunger hosts the annual “World Food Day Poetry Competition” to address food security issues and inspire action through poetry.
23. Majida El Roumi – Lebanon, Middle East
Singer and actress Majida El Roumi uses her standing as a Middle Eastern pop star to steward numerous humanitarian causes to the Arab community. As Goodwill Ambassador to the FAO, she promotes multiple U.N. initiatives, including the FAO World Food Day celebration, the U.N. International Day of Peace, and the U.N. International Water Day. The artist’s involvement in numerous hunger initiatives has earned her national honors and distinctions from governments across the Middle East and Europe.
24. SAKA – Manila, Philippines
SAKA is a Philippines-based artist alliance that advocates for political reform, social justice, and food security for agrarian communities in the Philippines. The alliance lobbies for legal rights for marginalized, rural communities through protests and urban renewal initiatives. In addition to fighting for legal reform, SAKA teaches rural communities how to engage in sustainable agroecology through farming demonstrations.
25. SPACE on Ryder Farm – Putnam County, New York, US
Founded by theater actress Emily Simoness in 2009, SPACE on Ryder Farm is an artist residency program dedicated to the sustainable preservation of the organic Ryder Farm in upstate New York. In exchange for collaborative workspaces and valuable resources, SPACE members maintain the Ryder farm and its corresponding CSA (Community Supported Agriculture and Art Program) and farmstand. Many artistic luminaries have participated in the program, including Academy Award winners, Tony Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Guggenheim fellows, Obie Award winners, and MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellows.
26. Rirkrit Tiravanija- Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija creates interactive art installations using Indigenous food as a canvas. Through a decades long career in fine arts, the artist dissolves the conceptual barrier between art and food, most notably by cooking and serving Thai food in prestigious art galleries. Tiravanija has earned numerous awards from organizations like the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum.
27. Terra Una – Liberdade, Brazil
Located in the Mantiqueira Mountains of Southeastern Brazil, the Terra Una artist residency program integrates contemporary art with the principles of natural ecology and sustainability. Sponsored by international NGO Gaia Education, the program teaches a sustainability-focused curriculum using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as guiding principles. While in the program, artists maintain a sustainable relationship to the Terra Una Ecovillage using permaculture, bioconstruction, and agroecology.
28. James Tylor – Canberra, Australia
James Tylor uses multidisciplinary art installations to explore the environment, culture, and social history of Aboriginal Australians. The artist collaborates with chefs to recreate Aboriginal recipes that illuminate Australian culture and history. Tylor’s internationally-showcased work has earned him numerous awards, including the Ramsay Art Prize, Fleurieu Art Prize, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, and Macquarie Group Emerging Artist Prize.
29. Zagreus Projekt – Berlin, Germany
The Zagreus Projekt in Berlin functions simultaneously as an art gallery, dining space, and educational institution. Owner and chef Ulrich Krauss combines ethnically diverse artists and cuisine to create immersive experiences that illuminate Indigenous history. The gallery’s unique collaboration has garnered press in outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Vogue.
Photo courtesy of Pablo Lancaster Jones