If food is transient, so are the techniques, gestures, and know-how required to preserve it and extend its lifetime. “There is a life and death of gestures,” Luce Giard (1998: 202) suggests with a tinge of nostalgia. Casablanca-born and Marseille-based visual artist Ymane Fakhir (b. 1969) documents this transition with a sense of urgency. In Handmade (2011–12), a series of five minimalist videos titled Grains, Bread, Wheat, Vermicelli, and Sugar Loaf, Fakhir captures her Moroccan grandmother's technical gestures as she transforms raw ingredients into basic staples such as couscous. Documentary, memorandum, archive, narration, and video installation, her five films, like five fingers, record her grandmother's hands at work. The installation recreates her childhood sensorium and memories of her grandmother's nurturing preparations. Likewise, her films function as visual aide-mémoire and collective repository for a new generation of women, including Fakhir's own daughter, who do not (need to) know these techniques. In this article, I ask what type of aesthetic interventions her film segments propose, and which memorial and symbolic goals they achieve. More specifically, in light of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia's 2018 common bid to have couscous recognized as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, I focus on how Fakhir's video installation, compared to institutional projects of heritagization, works to restore the degraded cultural capital of this now transnational and industrialized dish, while speaking to contemporary anxieties about the industrialization of the food system in both Morocco and France.
The Art of Saving Food: Preserving Gestures in Ymane Fakhir's Video Installation, Handmade (2011–12)
Sylvie Durmelat is Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Georgetown University. She studies colonial legacies, migration, and the making of food in France and North Africa. Publications include “Food and the French Empire,” a special issue of French Cultural Studies, and articles in Food and Foodways and Contemporary French Civilization. She is completing research on her second book, Grains of Empire: Making Couscous French.
Sylvie Durmelat; The Art of Saving Food: Preserving Gestures in Ymane Fakhir's Video Installation, Handmade (2011–12). Gastronomica 1 August 2019; 19 (3): 60–66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2019.19.3.60
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