De la nourriture – reflections

“De la nourriture” by Monica Jahan Bose
Galerie The Window
curator: Catherine Bay
1, Rue Gustave Goublier, 75010 Paris
October 19, 2017, all day project with final performance at 6:30 pm (duration 1.5 hours)

Une action artistique autour du changement climatique et son impact sur l’agriculture de l’Asie du Sud. L’action se terminera par un repas collectif.

“De la nourriture” is a project that uses food and water to speak to the impact of climate change on the agriculture of South Asia. The action concludes with a collective meal.

Reflections: The Window is a two-story loft gallery with a huge window overlooking a pedestrian “passage,” or small road with cobblestones. It is in an extremely diverse neighborhood near Gare de l’Est, with rows of Sri Lankan and other South Asian shops and groceries, African and Middle Eastern shops and salons, and people of all backgrounds converging, talking, and recreating on the streets. Curator/choreographer Catherine Bay and I discussed project ideas for several months via email and telephone. We both started thinking about using food or plants to speak to climate change. During my years living in Paris, I would often come to the area near the gallery to buy food and spices from South Asia.

At The Window on October 19:
I spend the day doing a series of activities using food and water. I clean the gallery with water. I hand-wash a white cotton sari and hang it to dry in the pedestrian passageway where the gallery faces. I shop for rice, dal (lentils), spices, and vegetables in the South Asian markets in the adjacent Passage Brady. I cook lunch for myself in the gallery, eat the food, and wash the dishes. A video is projecting on the full massive back wall of the gallery. Many people stop to watch. I meet many people of different backgrounds in the neighborhood, including the hair salon owner next door, an Indian grocer who wishes me happy Diwali, an older Tunisian gentleman who speaks to me at length about climate change, and the cafe owner across the street who loans me his electric hot plate and pots for my performance.

A small group gathers for the official performance, which begins at 6:30 pm. With a massive knife, I violently chop onions, tomatoes, and okra in the gallery, sitting on a bed of sari quilts/kanthas stitched by Bangladeshi women in Brooklyn. Images of Katakhali village, Bangladesh project onto me and the gallery wall. I scatter salt around the gallery. I light a candle and walk seven times around platters holding rice, dal, and eggs, signifying death and renewal. Repeated cyclones and storm surge have resulted in salt residue in the coastal soil of Bangladesh, with a negative impact on rice production and other agriculture. After each cyclone, the villagers’ chickens and ducks die, a huge loss of eggs, food, and revenue for the community.

I heat up two burners, one downstairs and one upstairs, and proceed to go up and down the stairs to fry onions and cook the rice and dal into khichuri upstairs, the eggs into egg dopiazi downstairs, as well as fried okra and tomatoes. The gallery became increasingly warm, like our planet. The scent of spices is overpowering. I write the words “moins carbon” (less carbon) with turmeric on a piece of paper. I soak the paper in water. I pour water from one vessel to another until it goes up to the rim, alluding to sea level rise. I drink the turmeric infused water, referring to a Muslim ritual of hope.

I wrap myself in a massive sari covered in climate pledges by Parisians and Americans. I am sweating and laboring from the exertion and the heat, while continuing to cook. The group joins me in carrying the sari out to the passage and we wind around the passage unfurling the sari. Many passerby join in and help with the sari. They all carry a table out to the passage, and we eat a meal together outside.

– Monica Jahan Bose

Photo credit: Michal Litvak and Monica Jahan Bose. All images and text copyright Monica Jahan Bose, 2017.
The saris were made by Monica Jahan Bose in collaboration with women of Katakhali Village, Bangladesh, and people in the US and France. The sari kanthas on the floor were made by Monica Jahan Bose in collaboration with Bangladeshi women and children in Kensington, Brooklyn as part of the AddaArt project with Arts & Democracy.
The project was supported in part by a Sister Cities Grant from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, which is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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