Spicing South Africa: representations of food and culinary traditions in South African contemporary art and literature

De Beer, Esther (2012-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Francoise Vergés comments in her essay Let’s Cook! that “one could write the history of a people, of a country, of a continent by writing the history of its culinary habits” (250 ). Vergés here refers to the extent to which food can be seen to document and record certain events or subjectivities. Exploring a wide range of texts spanning the late 1800s up to the post-apartheid present, this thesis focuses in particular on the ways in which “spice” as commodity, ingredient or symbol is employed to articulate and/or embed creole and diasporic identities within the South African national context. The first chapter maps the depiction of the “Malay” figure within cookery books, focussing on the extent to which it is caught up in the trappings of the picturesque. This visibility is often mediated by the figure’s proximity to food. These depictions are then placed in conversation with the conceptual artist Berni Searle’s photographic and video installations. Searle visually interrogates the stagnant modes of representation that accrue around the figure of the “Malay” and moves toward understandings of how food and food narratives structure cultural identity as complex and mutable. Chapter two shifts focus from the Cape to the ways in which “Indian Cuisine” became significant within the South African context. Here the Indian housewife plays a role in perpetuating a distinctive cultural identity. The three primary texts discussed in this chapter are the popular Indian Delights cookery book authored by the Women’s Cultural Group, Shamim Sarif’s The World Unseen and Imraan Coovadia’s The Wedding. Indian Delights. All illustrate the extent to which the realm of the kitchen, traditionally a female domain, becomes a space from which alternative subjectivities can be made. The kitchen as a place for cultural retention is explored further and to differing degrees in both The Wedding and The World Unseen. Ultimately, indentifying cultural heritage through food enables tracing alternative and intersecting cultural identities that elsewhere, are often left out for neat and new ethnic, cultural or national identities. The thesis will in particular explore the extent to which spices used within creole and/or diasporic culinary practices encode complex affiliations and connections. Tracing the intimacies and the disjunctures becomes productive within the postapartheid present where the vestiges of apartheid’s taxonomical impetus alongside a new multicultural model threaten to erase further the complexities and nuances of everyday life.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In haar artikel Let’s Cook! wys Francoise Vergés daarop dat die geskiedenis van ‘n mens, ‘n land of selfs ‘n kontinent saamgestel sou kon word deur te skryf oor die geskiedenis van hulle kos en eetgewoontes (250).Vergés skep hier ‘n besef van individuele en sosiale identiteit wat deur kos geleenthede vasgevang kan word. Deur bronne vanaf die laat 1800’s tot die postapartheid periode te bestudeer, fokus hierdie navorsing spesifiek op die wyse waarop speserye as kommoditeit, inhoud of simbool gebruik word om die kreoolse en diasporiese identiteite in Suid Afrika te bevestig of te bevraagteken. Die eerste hoofstuk lewer ‘n uiteensetting en beskrywing, soos verkry uit kookboeke, van die stereotypes wat vorm om die Maleise figuur. Daar word konsekwent gefokus op die mate waarin die sigbaarheid van die Maleise identiteit verstrengel word in ‘n bestaande raamwerk van diskoerse. Die Maleise figure word dikwels meer sigbaar in die konteks van kos en eetgewoontes. Berni Searl se fotografiese en video installasies word gebruik om hierdie stereotiepiese visuele kodes te bevraagteken. Searle ontgin die passiewe wyse waarop die Maleise persoon visueel verbeeld word en beklemtoon dan hoe kos en gesprekke oor kos die kulturele identiteit kompleks en dinamies maak. Hoofstuk twee verskuif die klem vanaf die Kaap na die wyse waarop die Indiese kookkuns identiteit kry in die Suid Afrikaanse konteks. Die fokus val hier op die rol van die Indiese huisvrou en haar kombuis in die bevestiging en uitbou van ‘n onderskeibare kulturele identiteit. Die drie kern tekste wat in hierdie hoofstuk bespreek word is die wel bekende en populere Indian Delights kookboek wat saamgestel is deur die Women’s Cultural Group, Shamim Sarif se The World Unseen en Imraan Coovadia se The Wedding. Indian Delights toon verder die mate waarin die kombuis as primere domein van die vrou, ‘n ruimte bied vir die formulering van alternatiewe subjek posisies. Die kombuis bied ook geleentheid vir inherente subversie wat verder en op alternatiewe wyse ontgin word in die bronne The Wedding en The World Unseen. Deur kos te gebruik om kulturele identiteit te verstaan bied ook die geleentheid om kulturele oorvleueling te verstaan al mag sommige groepe beskou word as onafhanklik in hul oorsprong en identiteit. Hierdie navorsing gee spesifiek aandag aan die mate waarin speserye en die gebruik daarvan in kreoolse en diasporiese kookkuns die kompleksiteite, soortgelykhede, verskille en misverstande reflekteer. Dit is veral waardevol om te let op soortgelykhede en verskille gegee dat die apartheidstaksonomie van die verlede en die huidige multikulturele model die rykheid en subtiele nuanseerings van die daaglikse bestaan verder kan erodeer.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/20027
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