Our September laurel Sarah K Khan, inspired by a sixteenth-century central Indian cookbook in Persian, decorates her spoons in honor of women’s knowledge.
✿ Why did you choose the spoon as a form for this work?
The Spoons: Poison or Pander, bedecked with 15 sheroes and imagery of a protective amulet, sit upon a patterned plate. They exist within a larger body of artwork. The solo show entitled, “Pleasure & Defiance,” is inspired by a sixteenth-century Sultanate period cookbook in Persian called The Book of Delights/Delicacies from Central India. One theme of several that runs throughout the bodies of artwork is elevating and recognizing domestic women’s spaces as places of science, deep ecological knowledge, pleasure and defiance. And that these shero-femmes wield great powers of creativity and agency with the tools of their culinary and healing arts. My newly interpreted blue and white ware includes The Spoons: Poison or Pander and encompass other decorated food ware, weapons of mass creation and weapons of mass destruction such as Scythes: Cultivate or Kill, Meat Mincers: Mince or Mutilate, Small Swords: Slit or Stab, 24K Gold-Leafed Jagged Knives: Carve or Cleave, Daggers: Relish or Rip, and so on.
✿ Can you say something about where you made this work, including the neighbourhood as well as the physical space?
I engage in storytelling via printmaking, photography and films. Upon receiving a Kohler Arts/Industry residency in 2022 to create in the Pottery, I learned the basics of slip cast molding, glazing and firing in the flagship Kohler factory setting. I created and learned alongside seasoned slip casters, plaster mold makers, and professional glazers. And I had at my disposal all the factory tools and machines. As a printmaker, I often say, “Why make one when you can make a hundred of variable edition prints?” With the assistance and knowledge of skilled artists and technicians at Kohler, I made multiples of food ware and weapons of mass creation/destruction that I saw and/or imagined in the cookbook. Simultaneously, I playfully imagine these femmes, endow them with nuanced lives and fabricate them beyond the confines of denied and erased histories. I assure futures by recasting the past.
Link to film about my residency at Kohler.
Here is a broader background to the solo show that featured this work.
The Book of Delights (1469–1500 CE), sparked my recent bodies of works—prints, ceramics, and motion graphics. The cookbook, written in Persian and illustrated in the Sultanate miniature painting tradition, depicts African, Arab, Turkic and Central Asian women dutifully serving and surrounding the Sultan Ghiyath Shah of Malwa. He commissioned the cookbook in Shadiabad, his retirement City of Joy. Largely intact, the miniatures include detailed cookware, flora, and pastel-vibrant illustrations. Polyethnic attendants, frozen in half or three-quarter profiles, prepare spice-laden foods, medicinals, attars and aphrodisiacs with skill. At the Sultan’s request, the women hunt, fish, and engage in animated culinary, philosophical and religious debates.
The illustrated cookbook demands a recasting. Few notice the attendants who harvest, hunt, cook and debate. The original images portray cosmopolitan femmes/women who serve, and most likely service the Shah. We know little about these women’s lives. From where, in that vast Central Indian and African Indian Ocean World, did they come? What were their nuanced narratives? Did they consider the work a delight? I ask, if the polyethnic world of the zenāna/harem prospered unfettered, with the Sultan cancelled, what might these un-imagined lives and worlds dream into? And here is where you find the work today. It is in dismantling and reframing The Book of Delights with an emphasis on the femmes, foodways, and plants that I expansively imagine. This action buries one visual narrative and births, not only seriously playful characters, but also selves and unimagined others too. By recasting the past, I assure boundless futures.
Pleasure and Defiance, Cove Street Arts Alliance,17 Aug- 7 Oct 2023, Portland ME
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