How ‘Stories on a Banana Leaf’ blends art, food and the personal narrative

Why ‘Stories on a banana leaf,’ an interactive exhibition curated by MAP, is a feast for the senses and the intellect

July 29, 2021 01:28 pm | Updated 02:55 pm IST

(Chetra), Barahmasa-I series, Madan Meena 2020, Silkscreen and natural pigments on paper

(Chetra), Barahmasa-I series, Madan Meena 2020, Silkscreen and natural pigments on paper

What do a recipe, a work of art and a story have in common? All these are a part of ‘Stories on a Banana Leaf,’ an online, interactive exhibition hosted by the staff of Museum of Art And Photography (MAP), Bengaluru.

Talking about food is a guaranteed ice-breaker and during the pandemic, it became a ‘binding agent’ for the team at MAP. “The idea for an exhibition like this took shape during the lockdown and food helped us connect with each other and our families even if we were living on our own,” says Vaishnavi Kambadur, assistant curator, MAP.

“Holed up as we were in different places, talking about food created a sense of togetherness and forged a bond,” says Arnika Ahldag, assistant curator at MAP, adding, “We began sharing personal traditions and memories centred around a particular dish or a recipe.”

The team realised that the museum has a lot of art related to food. They shortlisted 35 works of art from MAP’s collection, which was further whittled down to 17 works accompanied by 22 recipes. The genre and medium are as varied as the recipes: classical works of art share space with sepia-tinted advertisement posters, kitchen implements and fabric coloured with vegetable dye.

Print from the portfolio Abundance from Rural India by J P Singhal, c. 1970,Print on paper

Print from the portfolio Abundance from Rural India by J P Singhal, c. 1970,Print on paper

Dishes such as Katahal-do-pyaaza and Tabbouleh-Kosambari salad share space with red wine poached pears, capsicum chickpea flour, ripe banana curry and more.

“Conservators as well as those who work with technology and fund raising were also an intrinsic part of the exhibition, interpreting artwork and contributing recipes, which was an institutional intervention of sorts,” says Vaishnavi.

Soon almost every department at MAP was involved. Kunal Mehta, an inclusion manager, ensured that the series can also be enjoyed by those with visual disabilities by adding Alt Text that described images via screen reader. Others such as Riya Kumar, Curatorial Assistant and Tanushree Kulkarni, a Development Officer, not only worked on the content, but contributed recipes too.

Food is essential for survival; stories provide us with soul sustenance. And while snacks, mains and dessert usually evoke fond memories, there are also histories to food — centuries-old colonial angst behind a comforting cup of tea or the ‘feminine flavour’ behind a dish of meen moilee. In exploration of this, an explanation about the artist and his work accompany a personal anecdote and a recipe submitted by MAP’s staff.

Untitled, KG Subramanyan, c. 1980, Oil on canvas

Untitled, KG Subramanyan, c. 1980, Oil on canvas

For instance, the red hot chillies in artist Madan Meena’s Barahmasa-I series, appealed to Kavita Jhunjhunwala, MAP’s consultant in the Digital Initiatives division. Apart from details about the artist and the painting, she and two other members have contributed three different recipes where red chillies are the main condiment.

Apart from being an exhibition curated by personnel from different sections of the museum, ‘Stories on a Banana Leaf’ caters to individual tastes of the viewer. “One can choose a particular work of art, a recipe, an artist or vegetable and read up on that alone. There is no fixed route to enjoy this exhibition; viewers can pick their own pace,” says Arnika.

The result is a feast for the senses and the intellect. ‘Stories on a Banana Leaf’ can be viewed on till August 15.

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