Explore Manchester’s history through food at a new exhibition at The Portico Library

Dining In will host creative food workshops and kitchen takeovers across the next few months.

By Emma Davidson | 13 June 2023

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Courtesy The Portico Library Facebook

Image: The Portico Library

There’s no doubt that Manchester is a city full of food lovers. Every week we catch wind of a new opening, whether that’s a Neapolitan-style pizza parlour or something more obscure – like a Japanese-inspired Joy Division bar – and we’re spoilt for choice on where to spend our gluttonous weekends.

Dining In, a new exhibition launching at The Portico Library this week, explores the Northwest’s famous relationship with food, how it’s changed over time and what the future looks like for dining in and out in the region. 

Curated by multidisciplinary artist Xhi Ndubisi, Dining In is an invitation to explore cross-cultural food encounters, the ethics and aesthetics of production, preparation, consumption, and preservation of food and dining culture. 

Through an exhibition of The Portico Library’s collection, artwork from local, regional, and international artists, and a programme of special events, Dining In will welcome guests until early October. Featured artists include Electric Future Foods, Uli Westfal, Sheila Gheleni and Sue Palmer, Stephanie Black-Daniels, Ecaterina Stefanescu and Kim Chanyang, as well as the Portico Library itself. 

Although there is limited documentation on the kitchen in the Library from when Portico first opened, what exists tells us that the library is one of the oldest lunch spots in the centre of Manchester. Dating back to the early 1800s, Portico has played its own role in the city’s food scene. When it first opened, Portico sold ‘soups, tea, coffee, jellies, ices, orgeat, and lemonade’, and still offers a menu of sourdough sandwiches and Lancashire hotpots to those stopping by for a moment of peace. 

The Library’s collection contains 19th-century volumes that give insight into colonial encounters with global majority cultures through dining and food. It offers a snapshot of Manchester’s history at a time when it was becoming an industrial powerhouse. The collection provides a way to reflect on current ideas and practices around the production, preparation, and consumption of food.

One of the most exciting aspects of the exhibition is a series of interactive workshops hosted by a group of contemporary artists. Engaging with ideas about what we eat, where we eat, and who we eat with, the workshops have been curated in response to the collection. 

Over the next few weeks, visitors will get the opportunity to join in with sessions including The Pear Supper Table Read, which looks at the journey of the pear. Follow the fruit from feudal China, across ancient gardens of Afghanistan and Iran, over Roman and French Orchards and into the British landscape. The session hopes to enter a discussion about who we think we are, how we have come to be, and the complex relationship with place and personhood and happenings that occur when crossing boundaries and borders.

Dining In launches at Portico Library this Friday from 4.30-6pm. It then runs daily until Monday 2 October.