Mufaddal Husein’s work transcends food porn. More than an artist, or even an Eating Designer (the label he prefers), Husein comes across as an eternal student of human behavior. He designs experiences around the act of eating – an act so routine that we take it for granted on a daily basis. Through his work, Husein strives to create a feast for all the five senses, and then some. The props, the ambient noise, the actors, are all a part of the ephemeral drama he stages around food. Presentation, then, is important only as far as it enhances the experience.
Lovelorn in an Engineering Institute
Sandwiched between “(4) Indigestion due to Mess Food” and “(6) Frantic Nerves – Submissions, Marks, etc.” lies your ailment, scribbled in black ink and on display for all the world to see. You submit your request at the counter, a little abashedly perhaps – “Number five, please,” – and a man in a white labcoat and surgical gloves hands you your prescription in a small plastic cup. The drink the Artist has chosen for you tastes of tomato, and some spice that you can’t quite decipher. In the background fresh-pressed music plays as students converge and diverge around the counter. Nearby, an art installation showcases the various prescriptions people have received; tiny coloured papers fluttering in the breeze. You see a pretty girl from class pin hers up underneath a drawing of an oversized tomato. It’s red, just like the one clutched tightly in your hand. You feel better already.
Breaking the Ice
It’s your first day at a new campus, your first day in a new country. Long tables are lined with small steel bowls and banana leaves containing unfamiliar food. Is this a welcome feast? Unsure, you stand to one side with your friends, but are instantly paired up with someone from the opposite side. The Artist hands you a hammer and asks you, quite literally, to break the ice. Not wanting to make enemies when you’ve just arrived, you tap gingerly as your partner holds the chisel steady. Nothing happens. You try again, harder this time, and the ice skids out from under the chisel and shoots across the table. Laughter ensues. The ice is still in one piece, but the tension has been broken.
You are a child. It is Holi. You expected coloured powder, but instead there is food. Not the food you like, but chopped up fruits and vegetables. Arranged neatly. In bowls. You are asked by to create your monster, your demon, the thing that troubles you the most. Out of food. The boy to the left of you is creating an elaborate monster out of carrot sticks and radish. The girl on your right is constructing a beetroot spider with the utmost care. You look down at your plate and see your grandfather’s face staring back at you. Once every one is done, the Artist asks you to now eat your creations. You begin with the spectacles, made of onion slices.
When eating a body, where do you start? Do you nibble at the toes and make your way up? Do you decapitate the victim and scoop out the brain? Do you scrape at the skin or make straight for the entrails? You are handed a trowel and told to dig in. You lift the trowel to slice through the pie-shell crust. The body has many layers to it. It tastes of pumpkin and sweet potato, of cranberries and caramelised onions, of chickpeas and cheese. “Pies are supposed to be sweet,” you overhear tell the Artist, “This is crap.” As you eat, this body becomes a part of your body.
Everything on this table is sour. Sour in varying degrees, but still, sour. You never knew there were so many different types of sour. The thick, soft, salty sourness of cheese as it moves over your tongue is very different to slight sweet-sourness of a grape as your teeth puncture its skin or the acrid stinging sour of pickled onions. The artificial sourness of fizzy lemon-based drinks seems to exist in another world from the deep yet fresh sourness of oranges drizzled with clove honey. What does the future taste like? the Artist seems to be asking. Is it sweet, or salty, or bitter? It is all these, encapsulated in the sour.
Art can only stay alive as long as there is someone to view it, dissect it, absorb it. The Artist presents you with a body, and you consume it. The crumbs of edible rubble that remain, scattered, are nothing but reflections of yourself; as is everything else in the room.
The Artist's work takes us through the five stages of Food Love, from the moment that we first encounter it right up until the end of the experience, which is nothing more than a doorway opening up to an infinity of future possibilities.
Simone Dinshaw is a writer living in Mumbai.
Mufaddal Husein was born in 1987 and lives and works in Mumbai.
Hunger and Food are Everyday aspects of our lives. Great loves and great wars have been made over food. When we write stories about food, we're also writing about love. We're writing about need, desire, ephemerality, mortality and our instinctual desire to preserve the impermanent. Which is why we create memories and metaphors.Read More