The concept of “Recipes for Resistance” was inspired by a quote by writer Almah LaVon: “Just the other day I was reading that resilience is an ecology more than it is an individual trait or possession. If so, dreaming together can weave the context for our healing. That is: a container, an atmosphere, a potentiality. Not transcendence. In fact, I’m not sure how much we’re breaking free of personal/collective trauma as much as we’re brewing adaptogens, recipes for resistance, a kiss and a fist.”
The idea for the whole project is to explore how food relates to the politics of migration, belonging, memory, culture, coloniality, gender, resilience, adaptability and resistance. It functions as both a metaphor and testimony to survival.
The project started as a book, but I wanted to incorporate other mediums, such as video, audio, prints, photography and artwork to do justice to the sensorial aspect of the theme. I was given the opportunity by Ort Gallery in Birmingham to showcase my practice and decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to explore “Recipes for Resistance” within the local context of Birmingham and its rich history of South Asian culture and migration.
The theme of food and politics is something I have experienced as diverse cultural productions, so I wanted to open up the exhibition beyond visual artists. I centered voices from South Asia and the diaspora in an attempt to connect them better and highlight issues of ethnicity, religion, caste and gender. These are topics that I wanted to discuss in more depth, nuance and complexity than I have experienced before. South Asian identity in Britain, as with the British ‘curry’, has often been flattened and simplified, when actually there are many layers and flavours.
I involved two local artists, Navi Kaur and Yas Lime, because it felt important to bring in local creative producers to contribute to these conversations. Navi is producing work that focuses on cross-generational exchange between her and her grandparents, which I find endearing and a unique exploration within art. I also asked Yas Lime, a local curator and artist in Birmingham, to creatively respond to the exhibition to keep the conversation going. The whole point of the exhibition is that the work on show, as well as the publication, continue to speak to each other.
I also involved Jasleen Kaur, who had recently released a publication “Be Like Teflon”, a collection of conversations between women of Indian heritage living in the UK, which looks at hierarchies of culture, history and labour through the art of cooking.
Sabba Khan, who is based in London, is also onboard. I have been a fan of the critical approach within her practice and the un/comfortable conversations that she draws out through her illustrative work. Sabba states: “I was really honoured when Raju asked me to participate in a group exhibition. I find Raju’s practice very inspiring; it has urgency, immediacy and rawness, so to be in dialogue with them and others was really exciting. I also really want to move away from being so London-centric. This is hard for me as it’s my home town, but I want to connect with other South Asian communities across the country, so we can share experiences with each other and feel less fragmented as a people.”
The book and exhibition span poetry, stories, testimonials, articles, cross-generational conversations, interviews, illustrations, photography and recipes. Some of the themes are foraging, migration, queerness, diaspora, eating disorders, indigenous ingredients, edible archives, memory and body, legacy, community kitchens, coloniality, gender, caste, hybridity and fusion – and of course pleasures.
The “Recipes for Resistance” exhibition runs from 24 October to 28 November at Ort Gallery Birmingham. The postponement has meant that we have been able to open up the conversation online. The printed publications are circulating locally and globally with popularity. It’s been amazing to see people’s responses, which gives an indication of the interest for the exhibition. It’s nice that these publications can be received where people are socially distancing, and bring them engagement within their own homes, which an exhibition would not be able to do. This has been one of the upsides of the unfortunate experience of the Corona pandemic.
I have commissioned creative responses to the publication, which have been released digitally. This has allowed the context of the exhibition to migrate much further than anticipated and allowed interaction.
I’m very much in anticipation of the conversations with the communities local to Ort Gallery and the wider Birmingham area. As part of South Asian heritage month, we have already appeared on a panel with the British Council to discuss relevant themes about heritage and legacy.
There’s a conversation specifically around caste and identity of South Asians within Britain, and our connection to South Asia, that I’m hoping can happen, with perspectives on our food and culture and how that plays into assimilation, integration and belonging. I’m hoping it also allows for an often non-existent conversation around British colonialism, the British Empire and the East India Company in regards to colonial trade, which brought South Asian migration to Britain but also influenced South Asian culture.
I’m interested in the cross-generational and cross-cultural elements, across ethnicities and religions as well. South Asian identity in the UK is often fragmented and segregated and we are often not sharing our experiences across varied religions and ethnicities.
Lastly, I’m hoping that the project allows a much needed conversation around food and gender, sexuality, healing and disordered eating that can be discussed in a way that feels encompassing and liberating.
The ingredients/contributors to the exhibition and publication:
Navi Kaur, Sabba Khan, Jasleen Kaur, Yas Lime, Edible Archives, Raisa Kabir, Vijeta Jumar, Queer Masala, Nandini Moitra, Zarina Muhammad, YSK Prerana, WAH! Womxn Artists of Colour, Raju Rage and creative responses by Cairo Clarke, Rajyashri Goody and Priya Jay.
Thank you Almah LaVon, Ort Gallery, Amal Foundation, Holodeck printers and Arts Council England for the funding and the support for this project.
Masala beans recipe
A recipe that outlines the adaptability and resilience of South Asian culture and migration to the UK. Embracing British culture but making it their own, Masala (Baked) Beans was borne. Nearly every S Asian household in the UK has an adaptation of this spicy breakfast or anytime of the day snack recipe, I’m sure. We have 2 versions of this recipe in our home alone! but I’ve chosen to use this top recipe by a fave chef and writer I follow, Tanya Gohil. Tanya Gohil is a London-based writer, focussing on food politics, class, race, gender and identity. She is the chef and founder of Devi’s, a multifaceted company platforming Silk Road food. Tanya leads and facilitates ‘Manybody Wine’ – activism through natural wine – an alternative wine club for democracy and inclusivity. She also hosts the Food + Feminism podcast, launching Autumn 2020 discussing food pop culture + intersectional feminism.
𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐞𝐬 𝟐 plus l𝐞𝐟𝐭𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐬
NB. Posh or ‘healthy’ baked beans don’t work as well here, I’ve tried. Stick to regular household brands. They have the right levels of salt and sugar that complement the spices best.
1.5 tbs cumin seeds
1 white onion, sliced
2 green rocket chillies, sliced
3 tsp turmeric
1.5 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tsp ground cumin
0.5 tsp extra hot chilli powder, for extra heat (optional)
2 tsp garam masala
2 cans of baked beans, Heinz or Branston
Salt and pepper
Coriander and crusty bread to serve
1. Heat oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add cumin seeds then leave until fizzing and fragrant
2. Add onions and a generous pinch of salt. Stir and soften. You want a decent ratio of cumin seeds to onions. The pale slices should be speckled with seeds all over. Add more cumin seeds here if need be, depending on the size of your onion. Salt on onions draws out moisture, helping to sauté not fry. Add green chilli. Only de-seed if you don’t like heat. Cook for 5-7mins until soft, stirring often
3. Turn the heat down to low and add ground spices. I add extra fiery red chilli powder cos I like these hot, but you can use a pinch of cayenne or omit entirely. Stir spices through and cook out their rawness. Once the oil separates from the spices, you’re good to move on
4. Add baked beans and juices to the pan and turn heat back up to medium. Stir until the spiced onion mixture spreads through the juices. Bring up to a simmer, add black pepper and taste for salt. It’s quite likely you may need another pinch 5. Keep on a low heat until ready to serve. I like these with a fried egg, fresh coriander and some fresh green chilli on top
You can find Raju here: