Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art 2019 graduate Mita Vaghela reports back on her recent exhibition 'Bringing the Spice' at Raven Row. A project curated in collaboration with Naira Mushtaq, under the 'WAH! Women Artists of Colour' banner and funded by the UAL Post-Grad Community project fund.
What does have food have to do with identity? Quite a lot actually. The difference between humans and animals is that we cook our food; meaning that we choose ingredients and combine them, and cook them in a particular way to make a meal. So how do we decide which ingredients? Our inherited and learned cultures play a deciding factor in the recipes we choose.
Bringing the Spice was a one day event held at Raven Row on the last day of July 2019, with the generous funding provided by the UAL Post Grad Community Project Fund, and made possible by the Women of Colour Index reading group at Central Saint Martins.
Under the banner of WAH! Women Artists of Colour, along with @nairamushtaq a fellow MA Fine Art student, we invited UAL postgraduate student's who were female artists of colour to respond to the brief of Food, Identity and Memory and received a great response from across the UAL colleges.
We opened our doors in the afternoon where we exhibited work with artists @saradavid_art, @nadina_narain, @c_ai_z, @m_i_stry, @yifat_shir_moskowitz spanning painting, film and sculpture. This was followed by a collective read and discussion of an Audre Lorde essay, The Uses of Anger.
Led by Naira Mushtaq and mediated by Vĳayshri Vaghela, the purpose of the reading was to create an inclusive and safe space. The participating audience was given the opportunity to draw from their experiences as women and especially as women of colour. The conversations revolved around the navigation of spaces where inclusivity and intersectionality are often a form of tokenism.
To round off the event we shared a meal where I cooked hot and fresh rotis to accompany the curried baked beans, salad, rice and homemade lemonade I had prepared. I chose this menu as it was one of my favourite meals to come home to after school.
My aim was to recreate the scene where my mum would give me rotis as she made them and ask me about my day. I wanted to share that smell, that taste, that warmth, that safety, and the chance to chat that my mum’s kitchen offered me.
But it’s not just that this meal satisfied my taste buds, they also helped me to feel a little bit British in my Indian home. Growing up as a daughter of double diaspora, the tension between eastern and western cultural values was great. It seemed to me that my parents were the type of immigrants who wanted to hold on to the 1971 India they had left with a tight grip, and whilst they were willing to integrate into local society, it was on a need to know basis and outside of our home.
Departure from a homeland can result in loss of traditional dress, language, cultural values and lifestyle, however food is not so easily lost and perhaps the final remaining connection. In the seventies, racism was open and frequent, and the smell of Indian food was often a trigger for xenophobic comments, even though in contrast it has long been widely enjoyed by the indigenous British public.
These prejudices placed pressure on me and my peers to assimilate with local British society, which would require us to reject our own, however there were facets of British life that we values, and my generation has evolved away from a binary to fluid sense of identity.
My own practice aims to question the value of the female in Hindu society and challenge social heritage by way of the everyday and the ordinary. In Bringing the Spice, I sought to elevate the humble baked beans and celebrate the vibrancy of the immigrant woman who works full time and raises her children in a foreign land.
We Are Here! Women Artists of Colour is a platform committed to raising the profile of this under- represented demographic. We want and need to be seen and heard. We aim to provide support through events, exhibitions and workshops to broaden research in this area and prevent erasure of this important work, and are looking for support from everyone.
At Bringing the Spice we launched our Manifesto; a collection of recipes donated by artists and all visitors. The manifesto will continue to grow with time, and we would love for you to contribute your special recipes to add to the collection.
We have had an amazing time working with students across the UAL Post-Grad Community, and if you are interested in working with WAH! or would like to contribute a recipe, please do get in touch.