Hunger rethought: the story of food insecurity told through sculpture

As you walk along the narrow path near the koi pond on the east side of the Curry Student Center this week, you might stop and ask yourself: what is this metal table that looks like it was? pier next to the water?

Composed entirely of cutlery, the table is a data sculpture designed to draw attention to the problem of food insecurity in Massachusetts – an issue, like many others, that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Rahul bhargava, assistant professor of journalism, art and design at Northeastern.

Bhargava and his wife, Emily, are the creators of the pop-up sculpture. The couple have been involved in the cause of food insecurity for some time; but it wasn’t until Bhargava, a data storyteller who has taught classes on the issue, looked at state reports on the number of new households applying for the supplemental nutrition assistance program. (SNAP) benefits at the onset of the pandemic that he felt pressured to tackle a visual arts project to raise awareness about the worrying trend.

Assistant professor of journalism and art and design Rahul Bhargava and his wife, Emily Bhargava, collected 1,659 pieces of silver to create the sculpture. Photos by Alyssa Stone / Northeastern University

And the numbers are alarming. In the first few months of the pandemic, when businesses were forcibly closed and millions of people suddenly found themselves unemployed, an average of 1,659 new households applied for SNAP benefits every day in Massachusetts, Bhargava says.

To convey the magnitude of the problem, Bhargava and his wife collected 1,659 pieces of silverware and embarked on the design of the sculpture. His wife, a visual artist, welded the cutlery to a metal table frame to produce the sculpture, a striking mosaic that now sits illuminated on a section of lawn near the koi pond.

“The shape of a table seemed right to me,” said Bhargava. “It took a few months to put everything together. “

Bhargava says the sculpture, whose messy stacks of welded-on spoons and forks also present passers-by as, perhaps, dark and crowded, is as much a distraction as it is a symbol representing the problem.

“As far as it goes, it also distracts us from the people” who need help, “Bhargava said.

Bhargava and his students are currently conducting video interviews with families affected by food insecurity in an attempt to inspire others to get involved. These interviews will be available on the site of the sculpture, as well as a number of links to organizations and resources dedicated to helping households in need.

Bhargava discusses the stainless steel cutlery installation he and his wife made together which is on display outside the Curry Student Center. The table of 1,659 utensils represents the number of households that applied for SNAP benefits each day during the pandemic in Massachusetts. Photo by Alyssa Stone / Northeastern University

“Even the students on campus are struggling with food security,” Bhargava says. “Like knowing where to get food, having money to get food, getting the right food, and honestly having the pace and schedule to eat it – these are all real issues on every college campus. from Boston. “

Bhargava says he was surprised by the response from students, faculty and curious staff in the Northeast who stumbled upon the sculpture in passing. Some, he said, were eager to learn more.

Others weren’t even aware that SNAP benefits existed in Massachusetts. All of this is an illustration of the importance of “data literacy,” Bhargava says.

“More and more civic decisions, made by governments and communities, are made with data,” says Bhargava. “But we can’t just show people fancy graphics. So I work a lot to try to help people, organizations, and governments find ways to meet in the middle, ways to use data information that is a little more user-friendly for people who don’t speak the language. data language.

On Wednesday September 8, the Bhargavas and the rest of the team that worked on the sculpture will host a community food justice event. The rally will take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. EDT at the sculpture and will include “educational and creative activities for the community.” There will also be a canned food drive and participants are encouraged to make a donation, if possible.

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