Faced with the collective forgetting, we must strive to remember
– Reni Eddo-Lodge
Scents that saunter from the kitchen as an embracing invitation. Calling to commune over bubbling broths dosed with handfuls of herbs. The rich hues of curry concoctions and turmeric tinges. The taste of Sunday afternoon. Cape Town-based artist Lemeeze Davids explores notion, origin and identity through playful engagement. In her honours research paper, The Wooden Spoon: Investigating Food Staining as an Accidental Cultural Archive (2018) she framed her grandmother’s wooden spoon as a cultural signifier, “like the archive, the food stains of a used wooden spoon may possess information about our personal histories…The spoon relates my own personal history, and thus, guides the argument through the examination of broader topics such as colonial slavery in the Cape colony, the spice route, multiculturalism, and foodways.”
“There is a distinct link between heritage and ingredient, which is captured in the wooden spoon, discoloured by curry powders and misshapen from regular use. The spoon becomes a metaphorical archive, used to record the eating habits of its regular users.” In addition to this, Lemeeze notes that it also serves as a record – moulded by the tender hands it has been passed through. The relationship that she speaks to in her writing, between collective memory and cultural representation layers the reading of her artistic practice.
Lemeeze’s performance piece 54 Anything (2017) was centred around processes of exchange and representation through culinary experience. During the performance, donned in a white apron embellished with “Ceci n’est pas une idee”, she strolled around the exhibition space with a tray of vetkoek – from her grandmother’s cherished recipe. Her reasons for choosing this particular dish were twofold, the first was to produce what she terms an “unpretentious and homely” food. Secondly, as a point of personal nostalgia for her grandmother. Audience members were encouraged to make a trade a personal item for a deep-fried delight. 54 Anything became the residue of the items exchanged.
In the same year, Lemeeze produced Thank You for My Lunch – an installation of tumeric/borrie, masala, garam masala, cumin/jeera, garlic powder, ‘mother-in-law’ spice mix, sumac, mustard powder, dried coriander/dhanya, cinnamon, and salt. Each nestled in shell-like forms of unfired clay. “In the year that I made 54 Anything and Thank You for My Lunch, I was specifically looking at what we define as a ‘meal’. I was interested in events that involved making, sharing and consumption in a wholesome way.”
Lemeeze chose food as a medium to explore the universality of the experience, however, the real thread that runs throughout my practice is the desire to challenge the gallery space. Most people find aesthetics alienating and intimidating – the general public rarely offers their opinions on artworks because they feel like they don’t know what they’re talking about: is it good? is it bad? With food, I find that people tell me about their memories, their preferences, their recipes – because they’ve interacted with food every day and feel like they are able to engage with the work.”
Ambiguity of ancestry and questions of belonging from a personal perspective are explored in her work, “I’ve always felt like a rootless, floating entity in multiple aspects of my life…the investigation led me to themes of cultural identities, the colonial slave trade in South Africa/Asia, and immigrant communities. These are massive and complex topics that I am still trying to wrap my head around, especially because it is so intertwined with my everyday life.” In many ways Lemeeze also sees her practice as honouring her familial legacy–culminating in histories, recipes and a beloved wooden spoon. She is currently continuing to work with spices–saffron and turmeric – through processes of staining and dyeing fabrics as a further engagement of personal and collective histories.