August 8, 2012

Vintage Food Posters

Something I think about a lot: how diverse humans are, how competitive and troublesome and argumentative and delightfully different from each other.

And yet we all have to eat. We share biology, we learn tastes, we acquire cultural references. We need to eat, but we learn how.

I remember studying for a Masters in Art History, and peering at a fresco painting, my nose as close to the surface as they would allow, and thinking:

'Okay, so that streak, that's where his hand touched the wet paint, and that big long curve, that's made when you swing your arm from the shoulder, not the elbow, like - so.'

And then standing back and thinking something like 'Holy crap, I've got the same length of reach as Leonardo.' And getting the chills.

It's silly, really. Of course we have the same reach. I'm a fairly tall, well-fed twentieth century woman and he was a middle class illegitimate son (which means access to food was probably good, not the best) - and so we could very conceivably be the same height.

Of course we share biology - humans haven't changed all that much in 500 years. But we forget. We think it's different. It is -- and it isn't.

So here we are, online, looking at food posters from the past.

The text apparently translates as: "When the dining is well- run the spirit of production will rise." That's a cultural context if ever I saw one. But I also see a welcoming smile, a platter of food, a group of people, a family and a sense of festivity.

My cultural frame notices the facemask (I thought those were new, only since avian flu. Apparently not.) I notice the size of the main figure - she reminds me of a fertility goddess, she's beautiful and large. But in the West we might criticise (though I probably wouldn't, not being one to throw stones and looking rather a lot like her myself). We complicate: that's a better word.

The cook in me wants to know what's on the menu, the academic wants to read up on how the food halls operated, were managed and maintained, the art historian looks at the shape and composition of flat elements, and wonders about propaganda posters from all sorts of cultures.

What do you think? Is this about unity - or about diversity?

Posters - Top: date, artist unknown, North Korea; Bottom: c1959, artist unknown, China. Accessed through Poster Gallery at Nanyang Technical University: 

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