As part of the program of residencies, events and exhibition exploring The Politics of Food, Delfina Foundation is collaborating with the Food Studies Centre at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) at the University of London to present a one-day conference on food and cultural memory.

The Food Studies Centre at SOAS and Delfina Foundation present:
An Afternoon Symposium on Contemporary Art and the Politics of Food

Date: Sunday 30 March, 14:00 – 18:30
Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, Philips Building, SOAS, University of London

From F.T. Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurist Cookery to Gordon Matta-Clark’s conceptual restaurant to Michael Rakowitz’s Enemy Kitchen, artists have often turned to food in their creative process and practice. In recent years, a host of cultural practitioners has been interrogating relationships between food and environmental, economic and social concerns, as well as notions of cooking and eating as performative acts and of dishes, recipes, and cookbooks as contested markers of cultural memory.

This special afternoon symposium at SOAS brings together several strands of investigation undertaken by Delfina Foundation’s international residents and UK partners, featuring presentations, conversation, and tastings, under the auspices of the Food Studies Centre at SOAS, University of London.


13:45: Doors open

14:00: Art and the Culinary Turn; Or, Why Cook?
A discussion of the culinary turn in contemporary art with artists whose work engages with food as method. Featuring Michael Rakowitz, Asuncion Molinos Gordo, the collective Cooking Sections and Gayle Chong Kwan.

16:00: Sweet Thames
A screening of Anglo-Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar’s Sweet Thames (29 min, 1992), a dazzling hybrid of essay, film, and poem that links migration, assimilation, the color blue, the slave trade, the refining of sugar, and the idea of home through a selective history of the River Thames. We are pleased to show this rarely seen work, which encapsulates many of the themes explored by artists and scholars working around the politics of food.

16:45: Diaspora; Or, Food and Cultural Memory
A conversation with writers, artists, and curators whose work explores the movements of peoples, foodstuffs, and ideas. Featuring Bisi Silva, James Muriuki, Leone Contini, Candice Lin and Fred D’Aguiar.

18:15: Closing Remarks

Panelists and Contributors

Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz makes conceptual art in and outside traditional art spaces. He is professor of art theory and practice at Northwestern University. Recurring social-sculptural projects at the intersection of food and politics include Enemy Kitchen (2004– ) and Dar Al Sulh (2013- ).

Cairo-based Spanish artist Asunción Molinos Gordo explores issues of rurality and peasantry from a transnational approach. Her World Agriculture Museum (2011) used the visual conventions of Cairo’s 1940s-era Agricultural Museum to present the story of food production in the age of genetic modification, while The Non-Egyptian Restaurant — a pop-up restaurant in a popular Cairo neighbourhood — posed questions about food sovereignty through cooking and performance.

Cooking Sections is a collaborative research practice of architect and urbanist Daniel Fernández Pascual and artist Alon Schwabe. They cook edible maps of thresholds, events, buildings, architectures, territories and anomalies. Representative works include Geopolitical PaellaBoundary Gazpacho, and Empire Remains Pudding.

Gayle Chong Kwan a London-based of Scottish and Chinese-Mauritian descent who creates richly detailed mise-en-scene photographs and installations using food remains, waste materials, consumer packaging and documentary sources. Previous work includes photographic series Cockaigne (2004), which depicts a mythical landscape constructed from a single foodstuff and Paris Remains (2007-2008), made from discarded food from the streets of Paris, carved into a miniature version of the city as a ruin.

Born in London to Guyanese parents, Fred D’Aguiaris an award-winning poet, novelist, and playwright who teaches English and creative writing at Virginia Tech in the U.S.  Sweet Thames was originally broadcast in 1992 as part of the BBC’s Words on Film series. Works include A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death, a play produced at Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1991; Bill of Rights(1998), a long narrative poem about the Jonestown massacre; Bloodlines (2000), the story of a black slave and her white lover. His latest novel, Children of Paradise, is just out in the UK from Granta Books.

Nigerian curator Bisi Silva is the founder/director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos. As part of a recent residency in Itaparica, Brazil, she has been looking at Afro-Brazilian foodways and their cultural, religious, political and historical significance in Bahia, with special reference to the work of the artist Ayrson Heraclite.

James Muriuki is a Kenyan artist who uses photography and lens-based media to explore transitions in urban space. His recent Nairobi-based project for Nai ni Who explores food and the homogenisation of cultures. He is concerned by the expansion of cities into prime agricultural land in his native Kenya, and has been exploring the public and private archives of British colonialism in East Africa.

Italian artist Leone Contini‘s work focuses on intercultural frictions, displacement, migration, and diaspora, borrowing the tools of contemporary anthropology. One ongoing food-related project plumbs the ironies and predicaments of Prato, near Florence, where one-fifth of the population are Chinese migrants who have transformed local agriculture amid precarious conditions, de-controlling the idea of Tuscany.

Candice Lin is an American artist with a particular interest in food, fetishism, and the performance of authority. Her installation Bacium Sub Caudaexplored the political and economic machinations that led to the genocide of the Creole pig in 1980s Haiti. Her performance-banquet, Subtleties and Warnings, provided a contemporary political take on the medieval edible sculpture tradition of the Tudor high table.

Michael C. Vazquez, guest curator for The Politics of Food residency at the Delfina Foundation, writes and talks about food, art, music, migration, and the Cold War. He is senior editor of Bidoun: Art and Culture from the Middle East and former editor of Transition: An International Review.