Nadine Nelson at an opening reception of Our Bodies Ourselves earlier this month. Lucy Gellman Photos.
Korean birthing soup, fortified with beef and seaweed for calcium and iodine. Belly dancing lessons and African waist beads, so women can reorient themselves with the parts of their body they might otherwise hide. Tutorials on self-pleasure, from hand and ear massages and aromatherapy to a straightforward how-to on female masturbation.
The idea behind “Kitchen Wellness Wednesdays” starts with the exhibition itself, in which Nelson has an interactive, first-floor installation titled “The Kitchen Sanctum.” In it, warm wood furniture and bright fabric lights up the space, art winks out from the walls, and a meditative lineup of over 200 songs plays on in the background.
When she is on-site, Nelson lines a table with food and reads affirmation and "flower power" cards, asking visitors what they want to foster in themselves. To account for the days that she’s not in the space, she has also provided a guide for viewers to navigate the room. Despite the presence of more stuff—more art, more furniture, and more people a lot of the time—she has made the room feel somehow larger, as if it is big enough to hold all her attendees’ stories.
“The sanctum is the holiest place in a building and the kitchen is the heart of the home,” she said on a recent episode of WNHH Community Radio’s “Kitchen Sync” program. “So there’s that connection. The kitchen is a sacred place, it’s a holy place, it’s a haven, it’s a refuge. I wanted to create that to talk about women’s issues with whomever would like to come.”
Each week, “Kitchen Wellness Wednesdays” takes on a different theme, geared toward food, self-care, and the experiential learning style in which Nelson is trained. In the first, for instance, participants will take on “Roles and Relationships” with the chance to make spring rolls and meditative mandala salads, and discuss Cardi B. and dating with local artist and writer Amanda Bloom.
In another on “Mothering and Motherhood” scheduled for April 3, attendees will be able to try Korean Birth Soup, learn about how to self-doula, menu plan, and get “grandmothering” advice from community elders, who Nelson suggested are often excluded from the conversation. In another on “Self-Care and Self-Pleasure,” one activity offers a crash course in twerking, whining, and dancing, and another teaches New Haveners about superfoods and best massage techniques.
“I just use food and art as other modalities to engage people in topics that might be difficult, and for them to open their mind,” Nelson said. “I’m trying to plant seeds, like literally, with people and provide an environment where people feel safe.”
She recalled a recent Sunday, listening in to a dad and his two daughters stop for an art break that turned into a discussion on self-love and inner-beauty. The next day, a group of older women dropped by the center to see the exhibition, and stopped by “The Kitchen Sanctum” to explore the space and have their affirmation cards read.
The more they chatted with Nelson, the deeper the conversation became: the group discussed sex and aging bodies, self-care, and how their own relationships have changed as they’ve gotten older.
“That’s what it’s about,” she said. “The activities let people decrease their sense of fear or risk. Food makes people settle down and relax. Coloring a mandala or writing a love mantra … it’s really fun. It’s really interesting to see when people come of different ages.”
“It is what it is,” she added. “It is whatever people come into the situation [with], and so it’s gonna be different every single Wednesday. Not only because of the themes, but because of the people that will come to the situation.”
To find out more about “Kitchen Wellness Wednesdays,” click on or download the audio above, and find a full schedule of the events at ECoCA’s website. This piece is made possible through the Arts Paper's content sharing partnership with WNHH Community Radio and its longstanding news affiliate, the New Haven Independent.