Help Yourself to Some Art!

Samira Sheth feasts on an unusual menu of culinary images in Goan art

From the Forbidden Fruit to the Last Supper, food has always played a huge role in the popular imagination, assuming heavy religious and cultural overtones and becoming more than just means to satisfy a biological drive. And this is true across cultures. After all, food connects all of humanity. And whether some of us are on a diet or not, vegetarian or not, have food allergies or not – we all eat! Through the ages, across art in various countries artists have employed images of food and drink to best express common human concerns.

This association with food – as metaphor, as image, as preoccupation, as markers of class, caste and privilege – becomes interesting when we look at certain artworks and artists in Goa.

Vitesh Naik has painted an insightful series featuring the local tavernas and bars in Goa. Characters play cards and drink wine appearing merry while issues of false social appearances and societal norms form a cruelly honest backdrop. In one painting, a man sits eating the ubiquitous piece of Goan fried fish while a cat stands behind, looking on hungrily. The conflict between hunger and satiation, need and greed, the haves and have-nots comes to mind. The half-eaten piece of fish with its bones on display becomes the central focus of this conflict. Naik recently won a National Award – the Kala Sankranti Rashtriya Puraskar from the Lalit Kala Academy Karnataka for his submission, a work titled ‘Illusive World’ that deals with similar concerns. In another recent work, the artist paints a man biting into a luscious slice of watermelon but here also the image is neither tempting nor attractive. Again, there is a mood of crudity, crassness and gluttony – fitting for the times we live in.

Prominent artist Subodh Kerkar has long explored the pivotal importance of food as a connecting and transforming force in his art. His large sculptures of the local Goan bread or pao and of the now local favourite, Chicken Cafreal take on ideas of Goa’s Portuguese colonization and how that changed cultural and religious habits for good. Did you know for instance, that Hindus considered bread impure as it was fermented and that switching to eating bread from chapatti was an important factor in their religious conversion? Or that Chicken Cafreal has its origins in the slave history of Goa, being concocted by ‘kafirs’ or slaves and hence the name Cafreal?

Young Goa-based artist Kalidas Mhamal presents a series of food related images, some evocatively titled ‘Memories Remain’ where a lone slice of pizza  or a series of cola bottles with the level of drink in them ranging from full to empty are all that remain of good times gone by. Another delightful work, ‘Today’s Special’ lists a menu of local favourites. A very common image from real life, the simple menu with its humbly priced ‘specials’ makes for a telling portrait of social and class divides.

Or take in the metaphorical power of installation artist Katharina Kakar’s chilli pillars where she uses the red chillies to evoke female strength, power, desire and energy.

Provocative, thoughtful, hard-hitting, engaging – these diverse offerings are just a few samplers of the culinary in Goan art and there is so much more to whet an art aficionado’s appetite. Second helpings anyone?

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