An artist’s icebox ingenuity

Courtesy Photographs | Mark Menjivar
Two refrigerators, one with a jar of mayonnaise and another stocked with bread, toritillas and a yellow snake, are both part of Baylor alumnus Mark Menjivar’s “You are what you eat,” series of photographs on display at Baylor’s School of Social Work located downtown at 811 Washington Ave.

By Liz Hitchcock

You are what you eat is an age-old phrase, used by moms and grandmothers across the nation to scare children into eating healthier, but most people do not take it as literally as artist and Baylor alumnus Mark Menjivar has.

Menjivar’s most recent series of photographs for the “You Are What You Eat” series is being shown at Baylor’s School of Social Work. The 35 photographs in the show are photos of people’s refrigerators from across the country, and they are accompanied with captions telling the back stories of the interesting items found in the refrigerators.

In 2006 Menjivar was involved in the filming and researching of a documentary about hunger in the United States.

He said he was inspired to take on his own creative challenge thanks to experiences working with that documentary. Menjivar spent the next four years compiling refrigerator photos, and proclaims the series as his most complete body of work to date.

“I was spending a lot of time with people that were dealing with food insecurity. I was reading about food issues,” Menjivar said. “I was thinking about food, about where it came from, who prepared it, the effects that it has on the land, our responsibility to society and the people in it, and all of the decisions we make with food. This led me to a very simple idea of making portraits of people through the insides of their refrigerators.”

Menjivar said his concept behind the series is that looking into a person’s fridge — unchanged and honest — is like looking into a part of their life.

“There were two things that the people I chose had to agree to. One was that they didn’t move anything, so everything that you see in the photographs is as is,” Menjivar said. “Nothing is added and nothing is taken away. Also, they had to agree to talk to me, whether it be for 10 minutes or an hour.”

Menjivar said he developed relationships with all of the people who allowed him to shoot their fridge.

“I would invite people into the project that I was drawn to for one reason or another. It really varied,” Menjivar said. “I may have chosen them because of the way they look or where they live.”

Some of the most common items in his photos are beer or some type of alcohol, milk, leftovers, take-out boxes, milk and condiments or spreads.

Dr. Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work, described some of the pictures as shocking.

“The pictures pull you in. It’s not just a picture of a refrigerator. It is a picture of somebody’s life and their lifestyle,” Garland said.

“You can see the differences in how we live. It’s startling. … It’s like being photographed naked.”

One peculiar fridge included bread, tortillas and a frozen yellow snake. Another had a jar of mayonnaise and a black plastic grocery bag.

“It’s not just the nothingness of some refrigerators,” Garland said. “ It’s the healthiness of some. There is fast food in some and just lack of healthy nutrition in others.”

The captions placed next to the photographs in the series tell autobiographical information without revealing their names, stating where they live, the number of people in their household and a personal fact.

Vicki Marsh Kabat, the director of marketing and communications at the School of Social Work, spoke of the captions as being very insightful. “It’s all these levels at which you’re drawn in to these refrigerators, that you’re just not expecting.”

The show ties in with the School of Social Work program, The Texas Hunger Initiative, and looks to inform the community about the 36.2 million Americans who live in food insecurity.

“Social work looks at the person and the environment,” Garland said. “We are always looking at the environmental context for people, families and communities.”

Mejivars work is the first of many artists the School of Social Work hopes to display, Kabat said.

“We appreciate what art can do or mean and how one can benefit from it on so many different levels,” Kabat said.

The show will be open until April 29 in the new School of Social Work building downtown at 811 Washington Ave.