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Looking at the world of Dalit food through art

Rajyashri Goody's art practice is informed by her background in the social sciences, as well as her Dalit roots. Through the use of various mediums, including writing, ceramics, photography, and installation, she attempts to decode and make visible instances of everyday power and resistance within Dalit communities in India.


Your work is informed by your Dalit roots, can you tell us more about that and how it directly influences your work and experience as an artist?

I've been working on Dalit food culture for over four years now and initially it was to look at why there isn't much written about Dalit food in the context of cookbooks and so on. I started actively reading more Dalit literature which does exist, where I found a lot of similar experiences around especially around food. I would then write a recipe from each of these stories I read.

I feel like modern cookbooks assume a lot of things, in that these recipes allow you to take a 'taste' of another culture. However certain cultures are underrepresented in cookbooks, why is that? These recipes also assume you have access to certain equipment and ingredients thereby setting the context in another way. I just felt there were so many layers to unpack, especially with respect to Dalit food.

"Within Dalit communities themselves, there is lots of diversity and hierarchy within the caste. So these recipes and autobiographies are helpful for me to understand my own community history and then represent that in my own work."

You work through so many mediums, how do you choose which medium to use and what is the significance of each one for you?

The first medium I worked with was installations with found objects. This was connected to my background in visual anthropology and really focused on research and ethnography. I realised that I didn't have to make things as much as arrange them in a certain way or highlight certain parts. This brought out messages and meanings in unique ways. I'm also very interested in writing and ceramics. I like that I'm able to add my own aesthetic to ceramics in a way I can't with other media. I've been working more with photo archives, videos and photographs as well.

Since I didn't study art, I'm not committed to a particular medium so it really depends on what I'm trying to do and see rather than how.

When did you start working with the idea of food and what inspired you to do this?

I started working with food in 2016 as an immediate response to the Una lynchings. There were countrywide protests which were the catalysts behind my work. There's a real vacuum of positive imagery of Dalit communities so we're always in this 'victim mode' and I feel like that needs to start happening more. Eat with Great Delight was an extension of my recipe books and just show family photos of celebrations where we're eating and each picture is very joyous and showcases this very positive relationship with food. We are just like any other family, there's no 'Dalit' archetype.

There have been a lot of issues with food security during this pandemic, what are your thoughts around this? Have you created any work responding to this?

I think there is so much more to food security than an isolated incident. It's deep-rooted and systemic, and there has been a long history of lack of access with respect to caste that I'm interested in highlighting. I am more focused on talking about the concept as a whole versus what is happening right now as a single occurence.

When do you feel most inspired and productive?

I think seeing other inspiring works is always activates my brain as well. It's also a bit of an art education for me. I also tend to look and relook at my own work. That's happening more and more. I try to see as much work by my peers as possible and have discussions around them. There is no specific time or place that inspires me, it's an ongoing rhythm.

Before you go...

First thing you do in the morning?

Check my phone.

Favourite season and why?

I guess the summer because I like the heat.

Piece of art that you first remember making a lasting impression on you?

It was these very famous paintings by Bruegel I saw as a kid, I was sort of a bit mesmerised by them.

Do you have any rituals?

No I don't. I don't trust rituals.

Three words to describe you?

Distracted, talkative and a Leo.

Art Bites #3 // Hena Kapadia in conversation with Rajyashri Goody + Parag Tandel

Friday, July 17th, 2020


PS // It's stories like Rajyashri's about the idea behind the art that really engages us and helps us learn more. We aim to highlight the deeper meanings behind conventional topics as much as possible and Art Bites helps us do that! Keep an eye on our Instagram page to find out about our next session.


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