Addressing the ideas of disappearance and the production of memory, Palestinian artist Mirna Bamieh unravels the social concerns and limitations of Palestinian communities in the midst of contemporary political dilemmas. Since 2019, Bamieh has also reflected on the process of fermentation through her artistic works that travel between text, ceramics and video, embodied in interactive installations.
As a chef and artist, she merges food and storytelling to develop socially committed work through Palestine Hosting Society, an art project she founded in 2018. By hosting dinner shows and a variety of interventions that draw inspiration from food practices, as well as the passing of recipes from generation to generation, the project aims to revitalise traditional Palestinian food cultures that are on the edge of disappearing.
After an artistic residency in Córdoba commissioned by TBA21, Mirna has presented Bitter Things at the C3A (Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía), as part of the Ecologies of Peace exhibit. This is a multimedia installation bringing the oranges of her hometown to the C3A itself, in a journey back and forth from ancient times, through stories of colonisation and occupation, until finding the way to her body.
In your works you create a mix between food and all kinds of art, at what point did you come up with the idea of relating these two worlds?
I started using food as a medium in my art projects in 2015 and have been working with the notions of disappearance since I started making art fifteen years ago. I needed a medium that connects people, proposals, alternatives and new ways of telling stories, the stories that are especially hard to hear, like the stories that come from my region and never come to light considering my Palestinian and Lebanese background. Somehow, food gave me this innovative way to tell my story and the story of my people, in a way that connects people and allows for active listening. The foods I use are in the process of disappearing, so they are in line with my practices. I research recipes from Palestine that are disappearing, and I also ask myself why the stories and people behind those foods are disappearing and what has happened to the people, the land and the crops that produce them.
Your most unique and personal project is Palestine Hosting Society, how would you explain it for the public that doesn't know it yet? What has this work meant to you?
Palestine Hosting Society is the space where I show all my research through dinner shows, where I become the narrator of the stories I collect in which people sit around a table and for two hours there are performances, and they eat and encounter directly with what I have explored. With the food and pottery I introduce people can discover these Palestinian recipes that are disappearing. I also work with fermentation and preservation practices that are not only Palestinian, but are used all over the world, but I always bring them back to my place of origin, Palestine. It is a way to expand our view of the world from the human to the non-human, but it is also an exercise to expand our perception outside of the ego-centred way. I use the space of the jar as a starting point of inclusivity, but also of understanding the world.
For people in Spain food is a fundamental part of the culture. We treat meals more as social gatherings than as culinary ones, do you think this is also the case in Palestine? What differences and similarities do you find in relation to food between these two countries?
For me, food is always a social aspect and an excuse to gather. In Palestine we always gather around mealtime. That time together was very important to me as a child, especially because my mother got married very early and started cooking, so our gatherings were a tradition where we would try out the recipes she was learning. This aspect of sharing food in the domestic space, outside of celebrations, is very important because when it is related to the holidays it becomes more ritualistic. For me, the conversations that take place around the table are also very interesting. What can be said, what can't be said, how to be a guest, how to be a host, this dynamic that is sometimes inverted, are themes that are always present in my work.
Having studied psychology, do you think that this career has helped you to conceive your dinner shows and to understand the sociology that inspires your food practices?
My first degree was in psychology, but I was already doing art long before that, and then I also studied art and culinary studies. I think those studies and that training have always influenced my work and the way I live. I think the tools I learned while studying Psychology and Sociology are very important in the research I do and they taught me how to talk to people, how to gather information without being too invasive and how to get people to share things they don't normally share.
In your last artistic residency in Córdoba you developed Bitter Things, what was your creative process and inspiration for this work?
In Bitter Things you can find the oranges that were made into marmalade and juice that came from outside the museum, and although unfortunately these citrus fruits are no longer used by the city of Córdoba we use them and make recipes with them from Palestine, Lebanon and also Córdoba. To process the oranges in the jars that are in the installation I worked with the collective La Fresnedilla, processing 200 kilos of oranges, also people who come to see the exhibition can see six small videos of how this process was done, as the preparation of jam, juice and even if they pay close attention they could even copy the recipe of these elaborated.
In your stay in Córdoba, have you felt any kind of link between this city and your hometown? What do you see as similar and different?
Yes, the landscape is very similar with the olive trees and also the image that is projected of the Mediterranean. The habits and hospitality are also very similar, the importance of food in the construction of identity, as it is not only to feed us, but also has a cultural aspect. Also, the turbulent histories we have all been through, as the Mediterranean has always been a war zone, make us encounter the same traumas. Also the fact that this city was not always as rich as happens to my hometown, so we do have some common practices in the way we deal with food.
Your work is very emotional and sentimental, and you also introduce memories and traditions in a very natural way. How have you managed to reflect this process in your works?
I work with many different media, such as ceramics, sculpture and video, and there always has to be a starting point. The starting point for me is related to food, in this particular work it wasn't even food, it was bitterness, that's where the oranges came from and then the trees in the museum. I always try to find an organic way to connect things, there is no formula.
As you have now been to Spain and previously to other countries interacting with the gastronomic culture, do you have in mind any place you would like to go to in the future and try their food or any new project for the future?
I'm currently working on doing Sour Things as a series of spaces, so I've done the kitchen, the pantry, and I have in mind to do the door, the wall, and a few other spaces. The other commission I have with TBA21 revolves around olives, so I'm exploring olives in another installation that will be shown in October.