An art project that echoes women’s lives in kitchens

Mattancherry homemaker Manju writers her name in the drawing made by artist Moutushi Chakraborty in her kitchen. Photo: Special Arrangement.

For a long time, the kitchen space in Indian homes and the people (read women) who spend most of their lives amid its smoke and smells were thought about, only when one felt hungry.

Not anymore. From films to art projects, the kitchen and its dynamics are increasingly winning some solid attention.

And the latest initiative to zoom into our kitchens is titled ‘Who put out the fire?’ curated by Tanya Abraham.

The writer-curator’s experimental public art project, involving six Mattancherry women’s kitchens, was held for the past five days and it had artists exploring these spaces and working with these women to create installations for the exhibition ‘A Place at the Table; Where is Amma?’

The event, scheduled for December 11, will be held at Devassy Jose and Sons’ Warehouse at Mattancherry in Fort Kochi.

Artist Priti Vadakkath (left) with curator Tanya Abraham (right). Photo: Special Arrangement.

The participating artists are Babu Eshwar Prasad, Justin Ponmany, Lekha Narayanan, Moutushi Chakraborty, Murali Cheeroth, Priti Vadakkath and Sanchayan Ghosh.

Tanya says that her reason to initiate such a project is the aspect that the kitchen, despite being the fulcrum of a home, is not given due importance.

Artist Moutushi Chakraborty (left) with homemaker Manju. Photo: Special Arrangement.

“It’s an archive of traditions and customs, and the women working in a kitchen hold power. A family won’t function well without the kitchen, will it? But, it’s not acknowledged,” she says.

From October 25, the artists were working with Mattancherry women, most of them in their forties and belonging to lower middle-class and middle-class sections, to understand their connection with the space.

Tanya says, “For many of these women, there is no other reality. It’s been what their mothers and grandmothers have been doing and they are continuing with it.”

Artist Sanchayan with homemaker Viji. Photo: Special Arrangement.

Ask Kolkata-based artist Moutushi Chakraborty how was it to be part of the project, and she narrates her experience, “I worked with a homemaker named Manju, a silent, gentle soul who was also a mother, just like me. We interacted quite a bit and during one of our chats, I happened to ask her what she liked the best to eat as a child, and she said, sweets. And that gave me the idea to create a sugar sculpture of a tongue, and I gave it green colour as she hails from a Muslim family.”

Moutushi’s reason to make such a sculpture is Manju’s own silent presence in her family, sweetening it, just like sugar does.

Artist Lekha with a homemaker. Photo: Special Arrangement.

“She adds sweetness to her family atmosphere in a non-intrusive manner, that’s why I felt this is the right depiction. I also took photos of her palms and made drawings of them on her kitchen wall. She wrote her name and her husband’s name also on the palms. It was a way of identifying her space,” says Moutushi.

As for artist Sanchayan Ghosh, who worked with a homemaker named Viji Ramesh, he was enamoured by her pink home and her determination to be more than someone who cooks for her family. “

She is also into cooking professionally and dreams of starting her own Youtube channel. It was interesting to see how she balances cooking for the family and others. She also said that she loves cooking, and it was an important starting point for me. She is into a lot of improvisation, which I felt is also quite interesting,” says Sanchayan.

Interestingly, when he asked Viji why her home is all pink, along with sharing her love for the colour, she also narrated how her mom’s kitchen walls were all smokey black in colour.

“We made a line drawing with LED pink lights in her room, as she prepared crab curry for a handful of people including her family and neighbours at her home. She also spoke about her mother’s smoke-filled kitchen,” remembers Sanchayan.

The ‘A Place At the Table: Where is Amma?’ exhibition will have video installations, films, photography work and more, and the artwork produced in the past few days will also be part of the expo, including films revolving around these homemakers. Those who are interested to take part in the project can also upload pictures and videos from their own kitchens, here

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