top of page
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast
An Invitation to the Feast

An Invitation to the Feast

Laser-cut flashspun nonwoven HDPE garden, copper fruit, locally sourced secondhand dinnerware, hand-painted table runners, palm oil, rum, salt, honey, kola nuts, vinegar, peppers, water, community participation
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
Charleston, SC
May 17 – July 6, 2019


Jennifer Wen Ma’s cut-paper installation of Cry Joy Park—Gardens of Dark and Light spilled over into an adjacent gallery that hosted the project entitled An Invitation to the Feast — a series of community lunches and dinners with Charleston locals and activists  coming together around a shared table under the canopy of the black and white paper foliage. Each dinner centered on a topic: reentry from prison into society, education, food security, and land politics. Ma worked with activist Jessica Bolyston from the Ideas Into Action project to develop the themes and dinner guests, for rich, well-rounded and in-depth discussions,  which focused on those who have contributed to the making of the paradise that is Charleston but have not been invited to the harvest table in times past.

The communal table where An Invitation to the Feast took place had mirrored panels surrounding the room, which were painted by Jennifer on site, to create a reflective space for the conversations. A runner, painted by Jennifer with Rorschach paintings of the words “Cry Joy Park” in Chinese calligraphy (哭樂園), was placed along the center of the table. Dinner plates, glassware, flatware, and chairs from different families and individuals that did not match were selected to represent the coming together of the community. On the table were the following objects, taken from the Yoruba naming ceremony for newborns, where foods and objects are offered to the baby to taste or touch, with the officiating elder declaring the symbolic meanings of each as he did so: 

  • Water - everything needs it to survive. It symbolizes never having to be thirsty in life.

  • Palm oil - prevents rust, lubricates and soothes the body. It signifies a smooth and easy life, living a life without friction. 

  • Salt - derives from the ever-flowing and sustaining oceans, gives flavor to the elements of life.  

  • Honey - in West African tradition, it is said a person’s first taste should be sweetness. Honey represents a sweet and happy life.

  • Vinegar - its sourness is used to amplify the sweetness of other ingredients. Its fermentation is also vital to maintain digestive health.

  • Rum - made from sugar, and it is a libation that refers back to the Atlantic Slave Trade.

  • Pepper - a vegetable with many seeds, signifying a blessing of a fruitful life with lots of children, and the spiciness makes your prayers sharp. 

  • Kola nuts - have a long-lasting bitterness, and  it is said to bring long-lasting life, that has a sweet after taste. It is also often used in divination. 


On the night of the opening, four Charleston children read excerpts from the poem Summoning of Souls by Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), one of the great poet of ancient China. Each child stood in the North, East, South, and West corners of the gallery, and cast their summons to all souls, beckoning them not to stray but to come home. Then the children led guests into the dining room for a tasting rite from the Western African tradition. 

Once the children gathered guests around the dinning table, the guests were led by Dr. Ade Ofunniyin of the Gullah Society to a Tasting, inspired by the Yoruba Naming Ceremony for newborns, where foods and objects are offered to the baby to taste or touch, with the officiating elder declaring the symbolic meanings of each as he did so.


In 2013, the remains of thirty-six individuals of African birth or descent were uncovered on the grounds of the Gaillard Center in Charleston. In 2019, they were reinterred on the Galliard grounds, following a West African naming ceremony presided by  Dr. Ade Ofunniyin. So the ancestors would be known by their new given names from the regions of their birth, rather than an archeological number.

Education Dinner – Saturday, June 15, 2019


This June 15, 2019 dinner revolved around the theme of children and education. The artist asked the guests to imagine what the world is like from a child’s perspective. The dinner was served at a table raised by eight inches to give the guests a simulation of a child seated at an adult-sized table. The menu was developed by chef Trey Dutton and his daughter with childhood inspired dishes, such as an appetizer titled Rubik’s Cube, made from squares of freshly diced fruit assembled to resemble the popular childhood toy, and dessert with chocolate spiders.


The conversation with Charlestonian educators and activists took on a much more serious tone. We learned about the inequalities in education system that leave many children behind, which Will effect their future in career, social status and health. Those inequalities too often follow racial division that leave black and brown children vulnerable.


Charleston based writer Rosie Kopman was the artistic collaborator for this dinner, she read her essay A Man Called Monet as a prompt at the start of the evening. 


Jennifer worked with activist Jessica Bolyston from the Ideas Into Action project to develop the themes and dinner guests, for rich, well-rounded and in-depth discussions. Guests were members of local organizations doing deep and restorative work on this issue.

Land Dinner – ​Saturday, June 22, 2019


The June 22, 2019 dinner revolved around the theme of land. Land provides the foundation of a paradise, where trees, vegetation, animals and humans live and thrive. Everything under the sun has a right to lay its head on the earth to rest, be it an ant, elephant, or human. However, politics have complicated this right. This dinner explored how Charlestonians are impacted by land ownership.


Gentrification drives people out of their family homes and neighborhoods and destroys the fabrics of community that take decades to rebuild. In the city of Charleston and surrounding area, racial segregation in housing practices is undeniably evident. In the coast of SC Lowcountry, it is often a different issue. Heirs Properties obtained by African Americans in the decades following the abolition of slavery are in danger of being taken from their owners through calculated exploitation using the legal system. 


Soil was laid down the center of the dinner table. 

Marcus Amaker, Charleston’s Poet Laureate and musician, started off the evening with his music and read his poem, Giving Birth.

Reentry Dinner – Saturday, June 29, 2019

This June 29, 2019 dinner focused on the theme of reentry from prison into society. The artist asked the guests to imagine if Adam and Eve were given a second chance after being expelled from Eden. What would a more forgiving Eden be like? How do we bring the formerly incarcerated back into the fold of society, so they can live and work as active and productive members again, and making the community more safe and equitable in the process.


The dinner featured two artistic collaborators, Charleston poet Yvette Murray and New York based choreographer Sarah Dahnke. Yvette performed her poem, I am Four, and Sarah lead the participants in a movement exercise called Dancing Through Darkness, co-choreographed by Dushaan Gillum, an inmate in long-term solitary confinement. 


The dinner menu was designed by Trey Dutton, executive catering chef at College of Charleston. All of the food services at the college are provided by Aramark, a company that is also contracted by the local jail and prison. Trey spoke with his colleagues working at the jail to learn about their system of serving food. Trey and Jennifer designed the dinner to be served on plastic trays and bowls, with spoons being the only utensils, to mirror the treatment of the folks inside the jail.

Food Politics Dinner – Saturday, July 6, 2019


The July 6, 2019 dinner focused on the theme of food politics. Under the fruit-laden vines of Cry Joy Park, the dinner table was overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables that were bought from North Charleston's city-farm Fresh Future Farms. A food drive also took place for canned foods that were donated to a local shelter the next day.  At dinner, we explored the basic human right of food accessibility, which is not available to some in our society, and other humanitarian and environmental issues surrounding putting food on the table.


You might have heard the phrase “food desert”, have you heard the term “food apartheid"? In marginalized communities where decent grocery stores that proved basic sustenance at reasonable price is often scarce. These communities are disproportionally POC. The term “food desert” implies this is a natural grown phenomenon, whereas “food apartheid” shows us the truth that it is racist policies that keep community starved, unhealthy, and unproductive.


The dinner menu consisted of vertical roots baby lettuces, liberty watermelon, split creek feta, brass town beef tenderloin, Nicola potato gratin, local vegetable succotash, and blueberry creme brûlée.


AsianMae performed original poem Farm Poem (A Place We Can Grow). April Bandy-Taylor performed two original poems Urban Oasis and Benediction. Annex Dance Company choreographed an original dance performance. Zachary Litchfield composed an original score that accompanied the installation and was heard in the dance performance.


Education Dinner

Sera Beak, Ideas into Action supporter

Samual Bellamy, Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club of Charleston

Kendall Biga, Charleston Hope

Elizabeth Bowers, Yo Art!

Jessica Boylston, Ideas into Action

Greg Colleton, Yo Art!

Margeaux Coyne, Mitchell Elementary / Title 1 School

Bryan Granger, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Priscilla Jeffrey, Charleston County School Board

Kim Kaplan, Ideas into Action supporter

Cynthia Lawson, Ideas into Action supporter

Bob Lovinger, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art donor

Jennifer Wen Ma, artist

Terry Monell, Ideas into Action supporter

Chris Rosino Nairne, Ideas into Action supporter

Jerry Nairne, Ideas into Action supporter

Theykka Robinson, Tricounty Cradle to Career

Mindy Seltzer, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art donor

Mark Sloan, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Deborah Smith, Mitchell Elementary / Title 1 School

LaTisha Vaughan, Tricounty Cradle to Career

Jennifer Wellham, Ideas into Action supporter

Peter Winzeler, Kids on Point

Junius Wright, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art board member

Land Dinner

Marcus Amaker, Poet, musician, and collaborator

Bill Beak, Ideas into Action supporter

Karen Mae Black, Ideas into Action supporter

Tater Black, Ideas into Action supporter

Jessica Boylston, Ideas into Action

Johanna Carrington, WE BUILD Foundation and Jenkins Orphanage

Melissa Maddox Evans, Charleston Housing Authority

Kimberly Gaillard, College of Charleston Office of Institutional Diversity

Bryan Granger, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Eric Jackson, R3 Inc.

Bennett Jones, Enough Pie

Pascale Luse, Ideas into Action supporter

Jennifer Wen Ma, artist

April Magill, Root Down Designs

Melissa Moore, Housing for All Mt. Pleasant

Omar Muhammad, LAMC

Arnie Nemirow, The Nature Conservancy

Ade Ofunniyin, Gullah Society

Judith Puckett-Rinella, Ideas into Action supporter

Andrea Schenck, Ideas into Action supporter

Melanie Seidel, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Bill Stanfield, Metanoia

Hope Watson, Center for Heirs Property Preservation

April Wood, Historic Charleston Foundation

Henrietta Woodward, South Carolina Community Loan Fund

Katie Zimmerman, Charleston Moves

Reentry Dinner

Jessica Boylston, Ideas into Action

Derek Brown, Probation Officer

Karen Byko

Rob Byko

Kristi Danford, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

Thomas Dixon, formerly incarcerated and ran for mayor of North Charleston

Alyson Emerson, Ideas into Action supporter

Aulzue Fields, Turning Leaf Project

Dr. Chanda Funcell, Charleston Center

Tamika Gadsden, Charleston Activist Network

Bryan Granger, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Julie Hussey, Ideas into Action supporter

Karmen Johnson, worked on school to prison pipeline

Jennifer Wen Ma, artist

Yvette Murray, poet collaborator

Ashley Pennington, 9th Circuit Public Defender

Robin Pennington

David Phillips, FreshStart Visions

Tim Terry, FreshStart Visions, formerly incarcerated

Trisha Treece, Ideas into Action supporter

Scarlett Wilson, South Carolina Solicitor

Food Politics

AsiahMae, poet and collaborator

Abeba Ahliellah, Gullah Geechie elder

Kristin Alexander, dancer and collaborator from Annex Dance Company

April Bandy-Taylor, poet and collaborator

Stephanie Barna, journalist

Lindsey Barrow, Lowcountry Street Grocery

Jesse Blom, Green Heart Project

Jessica Boylston, Ideas into Action

Daron Lee Calhoun, Avery Institute

Todd Chass, Fresh Future Farm

Dena Davis, Head Start

Angie Dupree, One80 Place

Meredith Finney Garrigan, Wecology Gardens

Kaylee Lass, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art 

Jennifer Wen Ma, artist

Vanessa Mendes, The Alchemy of Hands

Renee Orth, Stone Soup Collective

Angie Pitts, Bread and Butter

Jackie Popjes, artist team

Giovanni Richardson, A Taste of Gullah

Tina Singleton, Transformation Table

Robert Stehling, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and Hominy Grill

Rachel Stubbs, Romney Urban Garden

Marques Stubbs, Romney Urban Garden

Becca Watson, Grow Food Carolina

Sharon Watson, Ideas into Action supporter

Katie Wells, Slow Food Charleston


bottom of page