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Documentary Arts

Ashley Manigo, ’19: Culinary Poetics of the South

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2019

My project highlights the nuances and ingenuity of southern cooking techniques from Italy and America and the role they play in wider conceptions of cuisine.

About the Artist

I am a recent graduate of Duke University from Fayetteville, North Carolina. While at Duke I served as the Director of Outreach for the art organization DuArts and was an executive committee member for the poetry journal Cantos. Through my time at Duke, I also rediscovered my passion and admiration for the arts; more specifically, I uncovered a passion that I didn’t even realize I had for film. Concretely, I write poetry and create moving images centered around sexuality, all that is coming-of-age, and womanhood. Moving forward I would like to expand on my experience and pursue a graduate degree in film studies.

About the Project

Culinary Poetics of the South—still a work in progress as I write—will be a poetic documentary that highlights the nuances and ingenuity of southern cooking techniques and the role they play in wider conceptions of cuisine. Specifically, I hope to draw attention to this by showing the similarities in cuisines from the two vastly different cultures of southern Italy and southern America.

My plan to make a documentary connecting the food cultures within the southern region of both the United States and Italy emerged from my study abroad experience in Bologna and the relationships to food that I observed there. After the course, I began to introspectively think about my own relationship with food. I approached the notion of food solely from a utilitarian standpoint. I primarily saw food as a source of sustenance and something to consume to keep the body going, but food is much more intricate than that. Food can contain history. Additionally, how I have been interacting with food seemed to be affected by both an American and African-American lens. I found strong similarities between Italy’s cucina povera (which translates literally to “poor cooking” or “poor kitchen”) and soul food in southern America. There is a level of ingenuity in producing flavorful dishes out of the bare minimum that the southern Italian landscape allowed its inhabitants to cultivate and the systemic structures that limited African-Americans.

I cannot speak in-depth about what I have learned so far or the mistakes that I have made, since I am still at work in Altamura, Italy, but this award and experience have allowed me to grow in so many ways, as both a creator and a person. The entire process of creating a proposal and being able to develop my ideas is extremely motivating. It has also given me the opportunity to exercise independence and make my creative visions come to life. Residing in a different country is and learning from all of my surroundings is also an incredibly humbling experience. Since this project is still ongoing and due to the nature of the medium I am working with, I will not be able to have digital versions of my work until I arrive in the United States, I opted to include proof I have begun the project with receipts for the required documentation.