In collaboration with Rajyashri Goody, Mufaddal Husein and I led a food walk in the Satwa neighbourhood of Dubai. The Eat With Great Delight walk referenced the Rajyashri’s project of the same name, which was displayed as part of the Body Building exhibition at Ishara Art Foundation, and explored South Asian identities across urban experiences and the built environment.
The walk inspired a discussion around the hierarchies and sensitivities that permeate food culture. Though food typically brings people together, Rajyashri’s work highlighted how the opposite can also occur. We wanted the food tour to be an interactive accompaniment to her visuals and research.
The food tour was punctuated by dishes and discussions including Biryani and Zarda, and Biryani’s collective connotation; Karak Chai, or the working man’s fuel, and how the humble brew has been co-opted; the significance of bread and bakeries, and bread as a socio-economic marker; and Persian stews and kebabs, and the trajectories of feasts and how they can bring people together, but also exclude them.
Rajyashri’s artist statement on the Eat With Great Delight exhibit is as follows:
Though there are very few Dalit cookbooks, the works produced by the Dalit literary movement contain many vivid and complex descriptions of food. These descriptions deal with cooking, eating, celebration, shame, hunger, and trauma, all of which serve to call attention to Dalit communities’ everyday struggle and resistance under the caste system. Since 2017 I have been collecting extracts of Dalit literature that relate to food, and compiling them into a book of recipes. As Arjun Appadurai has said, cookbooks are “the humble literature of complex civilizations”. Creating one for Dalit people, among whom access to food and literacy has been sparse, is an attempt to contest what Sharmila Rege has described as the “‘official forgetting’ of histories of caste oppression, struggles, and resistance.
I was born and raised in Pune in a half-Dalit, half-English family. Since the 1980s we have had the luxury of a camera, and as a result we’ve had the opportunity to document our personal histories. While conducting my research into Dalit food culture, I became aware of the lack of positive imagery associated with Dalit communities in public circulation. It is of course immensely important to extensively document the oppression of the caste system and the deplorable conditions that many Dalit people are forced to survive under. But I think there is something significant – and humanising – in disseminating positive depictions of Dalit people too. With this in mind, I turned to photographs of my own family, and the happy memories captured on camera – most of which revolve around the sharing of food.
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