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‘Cooking Faces’ – An Interview with French Artist Enora Lalet

‘Cooking Faces’ – An Interview with French Artist Enora Lalet

When Enora Lalet came to India in 2015 for the East-West Festival in New Delhi, it was springtime. 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. Recently, she worked on her new series on the invitation of the Alliance Français, Bhopal. Ideas of sustainability and reuse fill her canvas, where Lalet uses everything from vegetables and fruit scraps 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.

Here’s a view into her life, art and creative process!

Given your parents’ affinity towards Indonesia, you are closely connected to the country as well. You’ve been educated in Arts and Anthropology. You have also travelled extensively. How has this background shaped you and your art style?

My childhood in Bali, the Hindu culture and the many contacts with foreign cultures have certainly influenced my artistic work from the beginning. The excess of colours or ornaments, the kitsch side sometimes, and the headdresses can evoke images of  dances based on the Ramayana or the Hindu deities. There has always been a true fascination with the ‘Otherness’ and with the mythologies that form beliefs and rites. In my work, there is an emphasis on the painted body, on identity, on ritual, on the strangeness that can be felt in the face of distant cultural practices.

‘Cooking Faces’, your culinary portraits, were exhibited first at Bordeaux, France (2010). Your art is unique and inspirational. What or who has been the inspiration behind your art?

In the past, I was very much influenced or inspired by my dreams. When I was sleeping, I often had aesthetic ‘visions’, which I hastened to draw when I woke up because they tumbled out of my head. I had a strong desire, I think, to transgress the ‘table manners’, which are particularly rigid in France. 

Your art style evokes an immediate question – Why food? Why not something else?

The question of the body and food are two subjects that are at the heart of our societies and that is why these two materials particularly attract me. Beliefs about what is and is not good to eat depend on the culture from which one is conditioned and sometimes lead to contradictory results. It is a world full of taboos and personal preferences, so we enter into the personal mythology of the individual, of what has shaped him or her, into his or her value judgments. Moreover, the visual is also an interesting aspect of gastronomy because it then sets all the other senses in motion. Food is an inexhaustible subject.

How do you choose your models? Is there a particular idea or strategy behind it?

The models of these portraits are simply encounters with people I want to highlight or who have a characteristic in their face that interests me for a picture: a large neck, a well-shaped mouth, the white color of big eyes, long eyelashes, sculpted shoulders, or an unusual or very stereotyped phenotype on the contrary. I’m not fixed; it is all about my encounters when I travel. It can also be other artists who help me during my residency to have access to materials or who make me discover their culture or the artistic network.

You were in Bhopal for nearly 6 weeks for several artistic projects, from 4 February to mid-March 2020. Alliance Française de Bhopal, the Indo-French cultural center, had organized your solo exhibition titled, “Food Mythology” during that time. After having spent considerable time here, do you think the experience has affected your art in any way?

The residency project was fixed in advance. I wanted to make a series of Indian portraits for a long time, since this culture fascinates me in many ways. ‘Totka’, the name of this series, echoes the mythology, but also the rituals, the abundance of details and flavours, colours, textures that one feels when in contact with India and its mystery.

What are your views on the art scene in India?

I met several artists and musicians. The nice thing about a place that is not much touristic or trendy is that the people are genuine, and so are the artists. I had worked in New Delhi a few years ago and it was much more stressful. The art scene was more like the one you find in France, with its quirks.

On a lighter note, what do you think about Indian food? What is your favourite Indian food/ingredient to work with? Why is it your favourite?

I love Indian food. My favourite is palak paneer. I also love kulfi and cheese naan and so many other things. 

What are your views on food photography? It is mostly used for commercial purposes. How can it be expanded? What is the scope of food photography?

It is another world, another network. I have done a bit of photography, but I am not a photographer. I am a director, I make ornaments, and even if I enjoy looking at food photography, it is not the aim of my work. On the other hand, working with chefs or food photographers is very interesting for me. We share our knowledge and experience, we can develop the frenzy very far.

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Your work involves the usage of food for artwork. How is it dealt with after you are done? Is it consumed? If so, how?

When I use peelings, of course the flesh is eaten. When there is a large amount of food on the headdress, such as beans that can be washed and cooked next, I usually distribute them to the team or to whoever wants. There is little waste. I am always amazed at the people who are shocked by this material but have no problem with the fact that a painter uses an extremely polluting cobalt blue. They are the same people who go to buy their food in the big supermarkets that throw away 50% of the unsaleable products or, even more, who eat meat – a lobby which produces a huge amount of waste. So when people come and tell me about global hunger just because I put a fried egg on someone’s head, I’m a bit dumbfounded.

Your work involves dealing with people personally, in a physical space – painting their bodies. What is the status of your kind of art in a world ravaged by the pandemic? Is it even possible to shift it entirely to the digital space if need be? What is the future of this form of art in the present day scenario?

My work is currently on standby, not because of Covid-19 especially, but because I moved to the countryside to take rest and ‘get my hands dirty’. 

I am not attracted to the ‘digital space’ at all, really not. It is another generation, in which I do not find myself in the soullessness and coldness of machine pipes. Yet, Sri Aurobindo said “machines are necessary for man because of his incurable barbarism”. For me, digital is ‘practical’, but I prefer the material, as all visual artists do, I guess. 

I currently have an exhibition in the south of France, in the Arcachon basin, and a project for a large plant-covered headdress in a home for disabled people in Périgueux, Dordogne, France.

Let’s see what happens next. I am confident and I am not afraid of Covid in particular, but rather of the vaccine and of what the society is becoming, of the loss of freedoms, such as the freedom of movement. The media has a much more harmful effect than any virus.

(Translated from French by Sara Giugliano)

Please note: All answers/opinions shared by the interviewee are strictly their own. KCC/Articulate is not responsible and liable for discrepancy, if any. Their answers/opinions may not reflect the opinions of KCC/Articulate.

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