One of the first images on the Wikipedia entry for cornucopia is a propaganda poster promoting expansion of U.S. white settler colonialism in the western reaches of the continent. The poster reads “California, Cornucopia of the World. Room for millions of immigrants. 43,795,00 acres of government lands, untaken.”
Concepts of a horn of plenty, a sacred vessel of abundance, exist across cultures, regions, and historical time periods of the world. In the Neoclassical iconography surrounding the founding of the United States, the cornucopia is borrowed from that in Greco-Roman antiquity. Depictions of cornucopia from the colonial period to the present often combine fruits from the so-called ‘Old World’ with the New. Apples and pears and grapes mingle alongside pumpkins and squash or pineapple. Though the cornucopia is often used in Americana as a motif representing gratitude, the messaging around its image is more often centered on desire, production, and wanting more.
Defying the laws of physics, the cornucopia seemingly creates abundance from nothing. The source of this infinite prosperity is mysterious and sublime, like the origin of the universe itself. But the process by which many sweet treats land on our plates is not a mystery and is founded on historical and ongoing theft, inequities and abuse. More than just wholesome imagery, the cornucopia is used to make the land and the labor that produce American Prosperity invisible. By presenting these fruits in a wicker basket sent from space, we are removed from the chance to critique, to reimagine and to change the culture of their production.
Amanda Cassingham-Bardwell is an interdisciplinary visual artist from Algiers, Louisiana whose work focuses on drawing, animation, installation and performance. In 2009 she completed a BFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts with Tufts University. She then returned to New Orleans where she is involved in several artist-run spaces and non-profit projects. For a few years Amanda also ran an artist-in-residence program off of her sofa and an art gallery out of her living room. She was a past gallery director at Kirschman Artspace and 5 Press Gallery, has been a collective member of Antenna since 2012, and currently is the lead coordinator of New Orleans 24HR Draw-A-Thon. Amanda participated in the 2019 Lucky Art Fair. She was a 2020 Joan Mitchell Center artist in residence. Recently, she returned to the New Orleans West Bank where she is building out a studio space and planting trees.