A lot of people seem to want to bite Donald Trump’s head off these days. For those riled up by the Republican presidential candidate’s incendiary comments of late, artist Lauren Garfinkel offers up this food for thought:
Yep, that’s the Donald’s likeness carved into a circus peanut – those marshmallow candies shaped like the legume. The orange hue, Garfinkel says, reminded her of Trump’s signature tan.
A Brooklyn-based artist and textile designer, Garfinkel has been creating food art as a form of political commentary since the mid-2000s.
Some of her portraits are pretty darn funny: Supreme Court Justice and feminist hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg is rendered in corn chips, onion, tomato, jalapenos, refried beans, guacamole and cheese, part of a concept called Nacho Supreme Court.
Others take a more somber tone. American Bread: Soldier/Survivor features a pained-looking visage etched in whole wheat sourdough. It’s a nod to reports of widespread sexual assaults in the military. Why bread? “Bread is life, it’s survival, it’s so universal,” she tells The Salt.
Last year, as Russia meddled in Ukrainian politics, she created Putinesca, a portrait of Russian Leader Vladimir Putin in spaghetti with Puttanesca sauce.
Garfinkel says she’s followed politics closely since her student days at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1990s. The idea of making political food art, she says, struck her while watching news coverage of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought in the Gulf Coast in 2005. What lit the spark? President George W. Bush’s famous, and ill-placed, praise of Michael Brown, the man then in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” Bush said.
“And all of a sudden I was like, Oh, brownie,” Garfinkel says, recalling that moment of inspiration. “And I just started sketching and jotting down ideas.”
The result: this haunting image — crafted from a chocolate brownie — of a person stranded on a rooftop amid high flood waters. It’s a vivid reminder of the chaos many New Orleans residents faced for days after the storm, amid an incompetent response by state, local and federal officials. Ten days after Bush’s comment, Brown resigned.
Garfinkel uses edible materials to craft indelible images. Potatoes Abu Ghraib recreates — in mashed potatoes, bread crumbs, cheddar, scallions and spices — an infamous image of a hooded prisoner being tortured at a U.S. military prison during the Iraq War. It’s part of a series she created in 2009 to mark the end of the Bush administration. It’s “about images that can’t be unseen,” she says. “‘Abu Ghraib’ became part of our vocabulary, part of our dinner conversation.”
Other subjects she’s tackled include state efforts to tighten voter ID requirements – which critics have blasted as an attempt to disenfranchise minority and elderly voters. Disenfranchfries manages to evoke pathos with potatoes. “I choose subjects that interest or concern me,” she says.
Garfinkel’s photos stay with the viewer, though her food-based canvases themselves have a limited shelf life. Images of her work went on display in two exhibits last year — you can see them on her website, EdibleGovernment.com.
Does she eat the art when she’s done photographing it? “No,” she says, laughing. “Especially with the portraits, that just seems so barbaric.”
Her focus is primarily the political realm — “it feels like my way of participating in the political process,” she says of her food-based projects. But she does occasionally veer into other spheres. Her portrait of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, for instance, renders the fashion icon’s trademark dark sunglasses in roe, which “felt like a chic material,” Garfinkel says.
With the 2016 presidential campaign underway, shes’s planning to ramp up her output on her site and on social media. “I would love to put on a show for the 2016 presidential debates, perhaps with photographs, theme cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, something festive,” she says.
Silly or serious, Garfinkel says she approaches all her subjects with respect.
“Even Donald Trump,” she says. “It’s kind of a silly portrait, but at the same time, to me, he’s serious — he has a serious impact.”