HARVEST MANDALAS: AN ART INTERVENTION ON THE POWER OF COMMUNITY TO HEAL ITSELF WITH FOOD AND ABUNDANCE

ArtSpace New Haven commissioned Nadine Nelson to do Harvest Mandalas at John Slade Ealy House on October 22 & 23, 2016 as part of Game On Open Studios. 

Greater than an elementary shape, the mandala symbolizes wholeness and can be seen as an example of the compass to the map of life itself. Created to help discover your connection with the earth and with the community through the metaphor of the mandala which means circle in Sanskrit and the notion of harvest as plentiful especially when multiplied by the generosity of others guests were asked to bring family, friends, canned goods, non-perishable food items and produce from local farmers or gardens to contribute and build a mandala art installation. With the notion that everyone has something to give, guests are prompted to think about what they have to give and are willing to share to create a holistic experience. They are invited to please bring flowers, veggies, fruit, seeds and grains, ears of corn or wheat, and any other offerings that feel appropriate to the season (poem, quote, song, dance, stones, shells, leaves, pinecones) to be used in a group ritual. In pooling our resources together to co-create a symbol to feast the senses, we collectively provide a momentary tribute to the beauty we find within ourselves and the world around us. The Harvest Mandala is a sharing of our thanks for our personal harvests and the bounty we can produce together. Representing the cosmos in its totality, a mandala is both the microcosm and the macrocosm of the universe, and we are all part of its intricate design which one can see in nature everywhere. The harvest mandala is more than an image seen with our eyes; it is an actual moment in time. For the duration of the installation, the Harvest Mandala is a vehicle to explore food, art, waste, wellness, sustainability, science, spirituality, and our existence in relation to the planet, each other, and New Haven.  

As culinary educator and artist, I  created a 5-foot harvest mandala in the center of the John Ealy House on each day made with food waste and excess from area farms and restaurants. Guests competed against each other to create their own 4 feet harvest mandalas. Guests also had the opportunity to share food to contribute to the art installations, walk a labyrinth make with sustainable materials, and partake in a variety of interactive self-care activities in a wellness salon including making their own edible mandala salads to compete for best food styled plate via social media. People had the opportunity to share their ideas on a particular positive theme like gratitude to nature, bright world New Haven, thanks for New Haven Pizza, via a writing mandala where each participant shared their uplifting words to create a collective mandala with harmonious energy that radiated unity, love, joy, and peace. 

There are compelling connections between food and nutrition security, and food sustainability. Food waste is one of the most severe social, economic, and ecological pathologies among those facing our planet. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, we waste as much as 40 percent of our food in the United States or 133 billion pounds of food annually. Nearly one billion people are still dying of hunger or have to settle for deficient nutrition and over a third of the world’s food remains abandoned in the fields or ends up in landfills. A sustainable food system champions food security. Food and nutrition security is a foundation of sustainable diets and food eating patterns that promote well- being as opposed to obesity and the stress that accompanies poor health.The irony is nowadays, there are more overweight and obese people than underweight or malnourished in the world even in this day of hunger. Perhaps the biggest problem with food waste in the United States is that most Americans are oblivious to it. The Harvest Mandala seeks to raise awareness through art, education, and activism to encourage people to reassess and diminish our collective excessive ways of being, as well as to respect and value our food beyond its function as a commodity and instead promote food as a healing foundation for self-care. Food is an asset needing to be safeguarded and repurposed just like any other recyclable, with its waste overseen responsibly, as well as organized proactively before it occurs. 

Mandalas present themselves everywhere in nature; they are the structures of our cells, our world, and our universe. The very act of creating a mandala is therapeutic and symbolic. Consequently, mandalas are made by every culture as evidenced by Spanish cloisters, European rose windows, Aztec sundials, African baskets, vessels, and West Africa Adrinka symbols, Native American medicine wheels, French labyrinths, Celtic knot-work, the Chinese Yin Yang, and Islamic mosques. Mandalas are used to assist meditation and in sacred rites as a transformative tool to facilitate healing. As a circle, it is is a symbol of wholeness, continuity, interdependence, unification, abundance, harmony and the cycle of life. The Harvest Mandala seeks to inspire those qualities in ourselves and each other.  To read about the Harvest Mandala experience and bringing it to your art space, garden or organization here.