On a cool, breezy summer evening, music emanates from the middle of the block on 18th Street, steps away from Dolores Park. The lovely voice of a woman summons, rather easily, others to a delightful space. Stepping inside, there are vibrant and colorful drawings of sweet breads and cakes adorning the walls. The music that lured people in is just as intoxicating as the wine and food served. A songstress taps at an upside-down metal bucket fashioned into a stringed instrument while singing with perfect key and timing. Looking around, the tables are filled with people and food. One of the chefs for the event walks over with sushi wrapped in nori with intricate laser-cut patterning. Sitting down on one of the benches and with possibly the freshest ceviche ever made, it was hard not to feel captivated by the warmth and uniqueness of the space—not your average closing art exhibition. Yet, this is the constant environment and ambiance found at nonprofit organization 18 Reasons.

In 2007, Bi-Rite Market took over the space formerly known as Blue Space from founders Cliff Leonardi and Dan DiPasquo. Paying homage to the iconic San Francisco 17 Reasons sign that served as a part of the Mission District skyscape, Bi-Rite decided to rename the event and gallery space to 18 Reasons after its new home on 18th Street. Despite the bustling surroundings and wide array of eateries in the area, 18 Reasons unites an undeniable combination of art, community, and food. With the objective of creating community through food and art, the programming literally and figuratively caters to the diverse San Francisco community.

The multifaceted approach toward community engagement requires programming and interfacing with the public in ways that offer new perspectives to the community through the arts. Eighteen Reasons offers not only an exploration of food and cooking, but also a multitude of approaches that touch upon more complex issues. Art serves as a great vehicle for broaching real-world problems in relation to consumption and our overall relationship to food. Regarding the greater curatorial practice, 18 Reasons curator Casey Carroll elaborates on her vision of the space as a gallery: “Beyond encouraging pleasure and a deeper appreciation of food and those that produce it (both the environment and our farmers), my vision is to push the envelope and encourage open dialogue that addresses some of the rougher sides of food: commodification, labor infringements, animal abuse, poor nutrition, hunger, and beyond.” Carroll adds that “each art show is tailored to the individual artist and the concept or vision that guides their work. What sets our programming and curating at 18 Reasons apart is that the art on the walls never stands alone. The programming that surrounds each display showcases its interconnection and interdependence with the culinary arts and social practice.”

Lastly, the art programming at 18 Reasons entails the Bathroom Residency. Yes, it is exactly what you think. The yearlong artist residency allows for an artist to create artworks for the 18 Reasons restroom. Believe it or not, this takes an incredible amount of innovation and strategic thinking around how to utilize the space. Granted, many restrooms have some sort of decorative artworks, but these residents make using the space an unforgettable experience. Carroll describes the Bathroom Residency as “the second piece in a long-term project entitled The Residencies, which launched in 2009 during Julie Kahn’s stay at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Julie decided to take over our bathroom for the year and install amazing works of art that ranged from Eucalyptus branches springing out of the wall to laser-cut nori. Julie wanted to stay true to our roots and make the residency feel seasonal, which is why each artist has four different installations over the course of the year.”

Originally posted to Asterisk SF Magazine + Gallery site, please view here

Artist Profile: Sita Bhaumik

Technology allows us to exchange pictures of our caloric intake with the rest of the world with a few clicks, swipes, and use of a snazzy filter. Specifically, in San Francisco, a cosmopolitan place brimming with an incredibly diverse population, it’s relatively easy to experience food from a seemingly vast array of cultures. Whatever you want, San Francisco probably has a place or a person that could lead your nose and taste buds to something that will satiate you. Art offers a very similar experience. With our collective compulsive nature to share photos of things we can’t even taste or smell speaks to our collective desire to be connected. While food nourishes us, it also activates our creativity. Cooking and eating is a way to let others into the particulars of what we allow into our bodies. What happens when food is used to describe the relationships we have with ourselves, our history, culture, or our ethnicity? What happens when food becomes the medium of an artwork? Or when it goes beyond the sense of sight and envelopes you in a completely multi-sensory experience? Food provides us with a lot of information about who and what we are. Think about an ornately covered wall dusted in nothing but curry. Imagine a room filled with the aromatic smell of cinnamon. Contemplate the use of ice cream and edible inkjet prints. This makes up only a fraction of the artwork created by Bay Area installation artist, Sita Bhaumik.

As an artist, writer, and educator, Bhaumik does an extraordinary job at explaining the intricacies and constructs around weighty topics such as identity, culture, gender, and ethnicity, yet in such a whimsical, dynamic, and sometimes comical way. She manages to showcase her extreme wit and intelligence and makes history, cultural observations, and art digestible (pun intended). As a writer and scholar, Bhaumik re-invents the way in which we react to and contemplate food. She mentions in her writing, “Whether we’re in front of the television or at a museum, we arrive with tummies rumbling, ready to consume. On the one hand, food is a necessity. On the other, food is a luxury, trend, marketing opportunity, movement, and social-justice issue”. As much as food is a necessity, there are varying levels of accessibility and openness to scents and tastes that appear unfamiliar. Cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and chili powder on paper are only some of the ingredients Bhaumik uses to communicate something deeper about thought processes and perceptions of ourselves and others. Her work investigates and serves as a brilliant metaphor for the way in which we encounter someone outside of ourselves. Not only is her work elegant and meticulously done, it is an ingenious way to have people foster a different relationship with food as well.

With the wide array of fusion foods and cuisines that make up the Bay Area, it certainly is a place for the creative intellectuals to whet the community’s appetite with innovative ways of seeing and experiencing art. Bhaumik’s workis certainly a testament to the creativity and the diverse art practices found in San Francisco. As we enter into the Fall months, Bhaumik already has her schedule filled with events and a residency! She will be participating on a Scholar’s panel entitled, Food in Focus: Asian and Latin American Cross-Cultural Cooking, for the Asian Culinary Forum. As the upcoming Bathroom Resident at 18 Reasons, Bhaumik’s inaugural show for the residency will open in October. Her work is certainly an experience. So, the next time you consider playing with your food, you want to think what Bhaumik may do given those same ingredients.

To learn more about artist Sita Bhaumik, visit her website here

Originally posted to Asterisk SF Magazine + Gallery site, please view here 

Curatorial Statement 

Art serves as reflection. It mirrors what has come before, what exists, and gives inspiration to what may follow. Art is also a conduit to introspection. It raises questions about the relationship between culture, tradition, and location. In the exhibition, Querida Calle 24 | Dear 24th Street, installation artist Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik takes memories and experience to pay homage and gratitude to the well known 24th Street in San Francisco. With the increasing traffic and popularization of the Mission District, Bhaumik seizes the opportunity to form of a visual and a multisensory love letter to the stretch of urban landscape.

The sweet smell of cinnamon leads the viewer to a patterned wall that will please even the most obvious retinal sense. Yet, the longer one stands and observes the walls dusted in the familiar spice and platters enrobed in gold candy wrappers, the senses will subtly shift back and forth to engage in something that can only be experienced. Observation will become delectable and crisp sensations will tickle the nose upon a deep inhale. Impressions will go beyond the gallery walls and storefront. The viewer will be greeted by a Twenty Fourth Street that refuses to be forgotten and remains ever present through its distinct scents and visuals. As a show made with a myriad of parts, it intricately meshes culture, tradition, and history into sensorial consumption. Bhaumik provides an exhibition of the past, present, and future. Our collective recollections and thoughts made into the tangible and the tasty, this artwork will waft and flirt and begs the senses to devour, digest, and reflect.

~ Yours Truly

Artist Bio

Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and writer born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles to Indian and Japanese Colombian parents. After receiving her B.A., Cum Laude, in Studio Art from Scripps College, Sita moved to the Bay Area where she holds an M.F.A. in Fine Art and an M.A. in Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts. She currently teaches photography and portfolio development at RayKo Photo Center. Sita has collaborated with organizations such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, SOMArts, 18 Reasons, 826 Valencia, Whitman College, and Cal-State Fullerton. She has been the art features editor for Hyphen magazine, a writer for Art Practical, and Kearny Street Workshop board member. She also spends as much time as possible in the kitchen.