As with most big ticket events, the India Art Fair too had had a break in its on-ground programming last year due to covid. Now, with its return to the NSIC grounds in Delhi from yesterday, there has been the excitement of physical interaction and the ideas that that can kick off — especially since it will host, among works of contemporary and modern masters, also a slew of young artists experimenting with subject, form, and medium.
In this context, two projects, one titled Homemakers and the second titled Boochi Project, are unique in how they turn their lens towards the social, political, and ecological undercurrents of food — in terms of the everyday meals we eat, and those that we’d ‘rather not’. Both projects have been incubated and developed through different grants and programmes of the Serendipity Arts Foundation.
Here’s a quick overview of both.
Developed through the Serendipity Arts Virtual Grant, this is a digital visual art project by Pritish Bali, a 24-year-old student of MS University, Baroda. Sometime in February 2021, Bali wanted to think deeper about the sheer number of hours he saw his mother working in their kitchen, to make all of the family’s meals.
This isn’t the first time that society has tried to engage with the fact that domestic work goes unrecognised and unremunerated labour.
In January last year, just a month before Bali started collating photographs for this project, the Indian Supreme Court too had tried to wrangle with this issue.
One arm of Bali’s three-part project focuses on this very idea, but looks at food, usually associated with more pleasant memories for those only consuming than cooking, and philosophises the chore of it. His mother had once mentioned to him a dream she had had, which was was reminiscent of Sisyphus’ struggle — the never-ending arduous repetitiveness of the same household tasks, day after day. To capture this, Bali makes a mountain-shaped montage of all the foods that his mother has made, plated, and taken a photo of, over the last year and has a little interactive game: you scroll over the mountain to climb it; once there, a dish is shown to you — as elaborate as a full plated meal, or just a simple cup of chai. But then after this, the roti-shaped cursor rolls back down, to the base of this mountain. How many more times can you keep doing this?
The second arm tries to shock you by putting a number to the hours spent in domestic care, with a labour hour calculator; while the third arm looks at how for some women, marriage entails a total stripping of their identities — especially in certain communities where she is made is made to change not just her last name but her first name too.
Writer and permaculture designer Tansha Vohra’s Boochi, is essentially a project that explores the idea of insect-eating or entomophagy. Vohra looks at this in two ways — firstly, as a way to explore and understand food practices in communities where this is isn’t new; secondly, as “an inquiry into entomophagy being one of the many solutions we need,” going forward, for a word facing climate change, food shortages, and malnutrition.
Through her residency at the Serendipity Art Foundation’s Food Lab, Vohra developed Boochi further into a multidisciplinary exploration into entomophagy. At the India Art Fair, she is displaying her work through a stall set up in collaboration with Studio Slip, an interdisciplinary design studio in Bengaluru. One section is dedicated to the research papers she’d been reading to understand the idea of insect eating, the nutritional implications, and the politics of it. Another section will be dedicated to work by illustrator Shivakant Vyas of the Open Art Project, who has worked with Vohra to illustrate some recipes of dishes that are made of insects. This will include, as seen on the Boochi section of Vohra’s website, a weaver ant chutney and dishes made of the eri silk worm, the carpenter worm, and more. Each recipe card credits the source of the recipe, which community the dish originally belongs to, and includes little notes on the best way to actually go about eating the dish.
The smelling station area of her display, is in a way, an attempt to call out biases. This part of the project, in collaboration with Kobo Fermentary, brings two different kinds of koji, which is “a Japanese mould, domesticated about 2000 years ago, and used to break down protein in soybeans and make soy sauce, miso, and sake.” With Boochi, Vohra and Kobo Fermentary are using koji to make insect-based miso and insect-based amino sauces. There’s a grasshopper miso, two weaver ant amino sauces, on display. Visitors have earlier smelled some of these, mistaking them for parmesan cheese, chocolate, and more, but definitely not something that would otherwise be not amenable to eating.
“To me, art is something you can interact with, it pleases different senses," says Vohra, adding that "between sight, smell, touch, we figured that this is something that will provoke some amount of thought especially about something that they’ve possibly never thought about before.