Bitter Bites: Tracing the Fruit Market in the Global South

The fruit market is often underrecognized today, yet it is also highly visible. In New York City, for instance, one can find fruit carts on almost every street corner regardless of the differing character, ethnicity, and socioeconomic makeup of each borough. However, how these crops manage to reach our tables is little known to most consumers. According to a recent New York Times article, 20 million bananas are distributed around New York City each week, coming mostly from Ecuador. Not only is the global environmental footprint of such consumerist phenomenon dramatic, but it also transforms the local landscapes, social structures, and even traditions, of the fruit supplier communities abroad. Moreover, these inequitable power relations also trigger sexist, racist, and classist (mis)representations of those living in the world’s warmest regions —- think of Carmen Miranda’s popular ad for Chiquita Banana. Bitter Bites: Tracing the Fruit Market in the Global South reveals the economic, political, and cultural implications of the fruit trade today. The show has a transnational scope that mirrors that of the global fruit market, including artists from Bogotá, Madrid, and Dubai, whose works navigate myriad contexts ranging from Southeast Asia to the Americas. The pieces in this exhibition present and interrogate the problems of the fruit market in both the domestic space and the public sphere, surveying the evolving shape of this reality, beginning in the colonial times until today.

Fruits Tunnel is a site-specific installation created by Colombian artist Daniel Santiago Salguero. After moving from Bogotá to New York City in 2014, Salguero started to notice the varied countries of origin of the fruits that he brought home after grocery shopping in his new hometown. As opposed to the locally grown crops that he used to buy yearlong back home, in his new city most of the products were harvested elsewhere. In this way, what used to be a quotidian practice became a mapping project, a desire to trace the long path that the fruits had to take before reaching his apartment. Somehow, similarly to how the provenance of a painting can often be tracked by checking the labels on the back of a canvas, one can find out the country of origin of, say, a clementine by examining the small sticker on its peel: Panama, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru… Fruits Tunnel is an installation comprised by the accordion-shaped assembling of different bright color papers with an abstract cut-out space in the middle. Here, Salguero metaphorically compares the journey that millions of migrants undergo in order to enter the United States with the most common routes of fruit transport: from South to North, and from East to West. While the migrants’ experience is usually performed clandestinely, the fruits itinerary is explicitly shown here in the bright color paper.

In The Memory of Fruits, Cuban-Spanish artist Claudia Claremi creates an unorthodox archive of ‘forgotten’ fruits from Puerto Rico. She gathers the testimonies of several “San Juaneros” in order to recuperate the memory of local fruits that are no longer cultivated in the country in favor of those that are preferred by the import and export market. Executed from outdated media (a silent, black-and-white 16mm film, a handmade publication, and a vintage overhead projector), this anti-archive is composed of fruits that have virtually vanished in Puerto Rico. Claremi suggestively alludes to the island’s “forgotten” fruits without actually ever including them visually: she asks her interviewees to pose for the camera as if holding their recalled fruit in their hands. Thus, by avoiding the literal materialization of the fruits, this work avoids the fruits’ complete disappearance, and it protects them from potential commercial overthrow. In this work, not only does the artist call attention to contemporary ways of economic, territorial, and cultural colonialism but she also restores part of the collective identity of Puerto Ricans, as these fruits are, literally, part of their memories.

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