There is something about this time that feels interminable – the repetition of state violence, the close-quartering during a mass plague, the forced abrasion of our political climate, it all seems to extend forever. There is no expiration date because, in truth, it never had a start date. One of the things I miss most at this time is freedom of movement. When everything else buzzed in every corner, being able to remove myself and appear somewhere else was a small act of autonomy. Going somewhere now, like a walk down the block, or to the local park, or shopping for groceries, feels excessive and edged in by danger, either that I might receive or I might unwillingly give. This doesn’t leave room for much rebellion.
This is why, I think, I reveled in Zorawar Waraich and Leo Kalyan‘s short video “Samosa in a Gallery,” in which the beautifully-coifed musician struts around a British museum gallery happily eating a samosa, holding the tiffin it emerges from like a handbag. It’s only one minute but it’s lush – Kalyan is framed at all times by works of art, the first bite into the samosa is crispy and disruptive. He is unchallenged as he walks. The camera closes in on his mouth. It is delicious and uncomfortable, a moment stolen from the before time.
Waraich’s video, filmed before lockdown, is inspired by Ghanaian historian Nana Oforiatta Ayim who said “The museum as it exists today is so much an imperialist project and is so much about power. The craftsmanship, the display case, the beauty of the institution that collects and protects its imperial hoard: the way items are described, the way they are catalogued and what gets shown and what remains hidden; all work to deny, retreat, and forget.” The eating of the samosa, Kalyan with his handbag tiffin, it coalesces in a small jab at the museum as a colonialist construct.
“The way spaces like galleries are coded is heavily related to social practices – sanitized glass containers, indoor voices if at all, and certainly no food. So it’s no surprise, that entering a gallery as a kid – with my loud South Asian family on a day out, with the parontas my grandma made leaving a lingering smell wherever we went – was uncomfortable. After all, it seems smelling like Asian food is a crime to be shamed anywhere, let alone in one of these prestigious institutes,” Waraich said over email. “Today visiting these spaces with my grandparents is uncomfortable for a different reason, watching them look at artifacts from Punjab through a glass box behind a rope, is an unavoidable reminder of the ways in which our history is erased and manipulated, stolen, and sanitized. The motivation behind this video was to challenge all of that, to take up space in a gallery in London, have some fun, and to catch it all on camera.”
To be out and about. To be a person eating a samosa in a gallery, thumbing decorum and living grandly. To be able to do that all again.