Food, the art of cooking, eating, living. Food, the most decisive, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and the umami factor – of life and death, of tempers and relationships, of health and power, of war and peace – is a necessity, a comfort and a luxury, a desire never quite satiated. Umami, the indescribable, mild flavour when mixed with other elements gives many foods their recognisable flavour. It is almost synonymous to the story of food. Umami foods stimulate salivation and set off a series of reactions through other flavoured foods; in a manner similar to wars and occurrences that have pivoted themselves on other happenings but have been stimulated by food.
Traditionally people harvested, reared and bred their own food. The war was between various species. Then, territory, business and patents came into existence. There was a shortage of supply for the required demand of taste variations. Science was outdoing itself and the patience of seasons and natural growth became genetically modified and led to Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Payal Kapadia, a young video artist from Mumbai, questions and remarks on violence, migration and the situation of her city through food. The consumption of food in excess or shortage has adverse effects and has led to great wars, genetic modifications and disruptions of food cycles.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (2011), an animation film and photograph series, was inspired from a headline in the newspaper about exploding watermelons in China, triggering ideas about genetically modified food, civilisation, war and hunger. Payal was also extremely disturbed by a similar headline on square watermelons being grown in Japan. Using the explosive nature of the most cooling fruit in this video, the artist correlates rescue parcels and bombs – both air dropped.
Food and eating habits are deeply ingrained in the spiritual understanding of the human body and mind. For instance, in Hindu traditions, food is referred to as ‘Brahaman’, or God. In ancient times, as also stated in religious scriptures like the Upanishads, the properties of foods such Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic, were associated with determining the nature of the person, and eaten seasonally to control body temperatures. In almost every religion around the world, there are rituals and practices associated with food, and specifications with what food can or cannot be consumed – be it ceremoniously or religiously. However, in the case of genetically modified and processed food there is no certainty and control over what is being consumed. “This led me to consider, on a spiritual level, what we are doing with food today. What happens if we mutilate the basis for our existence?” questions the artist.
The photograph series Weapons of Mass Destruction (2012) was created in continuation with Payal’s work on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The artist describes the manner in which GMOs affect all strata of society as people are unaware of what they are eating. “This is especially true in India where companies often dump genetically modified technologies on poor farmers, tempting them with higher produce. As there is little transparency on the government’s policy on GMO, companies like Monsanto can get away with a lot more in developing countries than in the west”, explains Payal. The images represent the violence that tacitly destroys a society that is precariously held together by invisible technological development. “GMOs are no different from weapons of mass destruction being used against society”.
Through history and art, the watermelon has been associated as an object of varied metaphors and symbols – from a metaphor for death in Mexican art to socialist connotations and to its relation to bloodshed and war. In a tale related to India’s partition where abduction, loss and blood-shed were intrinsic, the watermelon reoccurs. Titli Udi (Flight of the butterfly) (2009), one of Payal’s more widely seen films is a story about loss, migration, hope, search for stories and answers. A watermelon is seen in the entertainment chest, alongside family relationships and memories; faith, religion and conflict; devotion and pop culture.
And so, through a simple watermelon, does Payal tell a tale of greed, war, beauty, thirst and that other intangible sense—the umami factor.
From food are born all creatures that dwell on earth. By food do they live and to food in the end do they return. For food alone is the eldest of all beings and therefore it is known as the panacea for all. – Taittriya Upanishad
Veeranganakumari Solanki in a curator based in Mumbai.
Payal Kapadia was born in 1986 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
By Veerangana Kumari Solanki, Issue 9, Food Art, May 2012