Written by Gafira Qadir and Zenaira Bakhsh
When Enora Lalet came to India in 2015 for the East-West Festival in New Delhi, it was spring time. Holi, the festival of colours, was around the corner. Lalet, a food visual artist, found her medium in paneer, chapatis and chutney. Painting a girl’s face with green chutney and twisting her matted hair to stand as horizontal poles, she hung her collection of tiny plastic chutney packets on them. Another art installation was of a man’s head sprinkled with gulal over a top bun stacked with cottage cheese. She even managed to use shaving foam, gulal and pastry decoration sugar in some of her portraits. Lalet was in Delhi over the weekend as a presenter at ‘Future Collective: Conscious Culture Design Fair’, at Delhi’s Bikaner House.
An “aspiring minimalist”, she has been travelling across different cities in India to create an artwork challenging traditional visualisation of food, lifestyle and people. Currently, she is working on her new series on the invitation of the Alliance Francaise, Bhopal.
Lalet’s art journey began more than a decade ago, when she first exhibited her culinary portraits in Bordeaux. Her series ‘Cooking Faces’, which used every conceivable ingredient — from cooking cocoa to coconut and ketchup — had portraits of people wearing them on their faces, sauces dripping from eyelashes, and noodles streaming down their necks, telling stories of excesses and identity. Using pop colours and coulis, she created art that would convert any philistine.
“People should not be identified on the basis of their phones, cars or clothes. We are more than that and we forget it because of the prevailing system,” says Lalet. Her travels have taken her across the globe, from Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia to New York, Berlin, London and Madrid.
Through her work, Lalet resists existing geographical borders and mixes cultures and subjects in an attempt to create “an imaginary art geography” that will transcend traditional maps and thought processes, she says. “Flavours make you travel,” she adds.
Food, she says, comes with associative ideas of identity, values, taboos, and disgust. “Food tells a lot of stories. I add strange characters to my illustrations but food is always the main ingredient,” says Lalet. Her personal favourites in cuisines are Indian and Italian, though lately, she has taken a liking to Greek food as well. Even with all her travel, Lalet manages to maintain her own kitchen garden back home in Bordeaux, France.
Armed with a masters degree in art and a degree in anthropology, Lalet began to question the unnecessary display of female bodies in advertisements to promote sugary products. “My curiosity led me to choose food visual art as a full-time career,” says the 34-year-old. Her early years in Indonesia introduced her to the colourful performances of the Ramayana dancers in Bali. It inspired the use of colour in her work.
Ideas of sustainability and reuse fill her canvas, where Lalet uses everything from vegetables and fruit scrapes to empty egg shells and pompoms. Turning vegan has been part of the process. “Eating fish and meat does not make sense while the world is in a crisis,” says Lalet, who has also stopped buying new things unnecessarily. “Art is finally about making people smile and pushing people to question themselves,” she says.
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