Lives and politics of the kitchen

With less than 20 days to go for the art extravaganza to culminate, TNIE reporter Krishna P S picks a couple of works that leave a lasting impression 
Home Away From Home by artist Mario D’souza
Home Away From Home by artist Mario D’souza

KOCHI:  Within the pink walls of her home, in her small kitchen, Viji Ramesh is busy making her signature crab roast. She shares the recipe with pride. And then, with an inviting smile, reveals her dream of starting a culinary channel on YouTube.

“I love to cook and serve the dishes, but I’m not a servant,” she proclaims in the video, looping from morning to evening at the Devassy Jose and Sons Warehouse in Mattancherry. She cooks because she loves it.

In the next video, we meet Manju Salih, who is busy with kitchen chores. She could study only up to Class 12, says the disclaimer. Manju spends most of her days in the kitchen. Besides the regular fare, her specialities are sugary treats.

“I wanted to study more. But soon after marriage, I became pregnant,” Manju says in the video, adding that her husband didn’t want her to pursue higher education. “Now, I do not feel the need for it, as my husband is educated.” 

Many such women reveal their ‘relationships’ with the kitchen in the film titled ‘Who Put Out The Fire’ — a community participatory project — which is part of a multi-layered work — ‘A Place at the Table’ — curated by artist and writer Tanya Abraham. 

“In India, the kitchen is usually connected to the women,” says Tanya. “It’s been like that for generations. The mother teaches the daughter, who, in turn, teaches her daughter. This happens irrespective of the background. And, that’s why I chose the kitchen for this project.” 

“Along with the artists, the women featured in the project use their kitchens as expressions of their lived experiences. It leads to questions on their relationships with the kitchen, and also the possibilities of the spaces as symbols of political reasoning and ideologies.”

Women, Tanya adds, have become the “representatives of the kitchen”.She elaborates on how the film has been touching viewers in different ways. “A 19-year-old student from St Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, told me that it made her realise she had the power to create change if she wanted to,” recalls Tanya. “That doesn’t mean stopping cooking, and nourishing the family. It’s about being aware of the idea.”

Home Away From Home by artist
Mario D’souza

All the videos were shot in and around Kochi, with crews visiting the women in their homes. “They invited us in, shared their life story, opened their homes and, more importantly, their kitchen to us,” says Tanya.

“There is one joint family, where the kitchen is a political domain. The mother-in-law has total control. And her three daughters-in-law are like her soldiers.”In another story, the mother-in-law cannot help out in the kitchen, as she used to earlier, due to her heart ailment. So nourishing the family, and cooking for guests is now solely the daughter-in-law’s responsibility.

“The mother-in-law now makes crafts to pass time. She says she never got time to pursue this hobby before due to the kitchen work,” adds Tanya. “There is another video in which the woman stares at a clock and rues that her life zips by while she is confined to the kitchen.” 

Along with the film, the exhibition displays the other parts of the project in its various rooms. From Indo-French artist Mario D’souza’s indigo pigment mural titled ‘Home Away From Home’ to Anuradha Bansal’s audio-visual installation ‘Chai pe Charcha’, where two women interact over the phone while making tea in their respective homes. The amusing ‘sound sculpture’ ‘Voices’ consists of nine audio works exhibited at the hall as well as on Bazaar Road. 

Gandhi, Hitler, and ominous fog 

Jitish Kallat, who curated the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, is back this time with two satellite projects — his seminal installation ‘Covering Letter’, and a curation titled ‘Tangle Hierarchy’. Both are displayed at TKM Warehouse in Fort Kochi.

Created a decade ago, ‘Covering Letter’ is shrouded in mystery and has an ominous feeling to it. Weeks before World War II began, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler for the sake of humanity. Through his installation, Jitesh revisits the historical letter that exudes his philosophy and passion for non-violence. 

The words of the letters are projected onto a curtain of cascading fog. The shadow of the lines in the letters falls on the darkened floor. They gradually disappear into the mist, just like how the letter that was ignored.

When asked what inspired him to look into the past, Jitesh says: “An utterance from the past could offer insights into the present. My works attempt to recite or reevaluate history… they often reincarnate an exchange from a momentous historical setting so that we can let them interlace with our current intuitions and speak to us now at the present moment.” 

Next to it is his curated exhibition about the traumatic Partition. One of the highlights of Tangled Hierarchy is a collection of five envelopes addressed to Gandhi, now conserved in the Mountbatten Archive at the University of Southampton.

When Mountbatten discussed the partition of the Indian subcontinent on Monday, June 2, 1947, Gandhi was on a vow of silence. So he wrote his replies on the backs of the envelopes to communicate his differences of opinion.

The exhibition also features works of various artists and relics from the Partition Museum. The trunks and other personal items of people fleeing the two new-born countries remind us of that horrible period, the lives lost.

Another work here by artist Mona Hatoum, ‘Hot Spot’, lights up the room in a red hue. The entire world here is depicted as a ‘hot spot’ — a place of military and civil unrest.  

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express