Over the past decade, the Food of War collective has used food as an access point for exploring nuanced socio-political situations worldwide. A research-based group of multimedia artists and their exhibitions have evidenced the ways food production, distribution and consumption have been the root of conflict, the recipes created as a result of the conflict, and examples of food’s power to heal in the aftermath of conflict. At the heart of their work is the ancient idea that through sharing food, we can break down barriers, transcend prejudices and find common ground.
The Food of War collective includes five core artists from Colombia, Spain, Brazil and Ukraine, all diverging in London. Through multimedia exhibitions, the artists have examined complex and controversial subjects relating to historical catastrophes, including the civil conflict in Colombia (1948-2016) and the Chernobyl disaster (1986). The impact of these projects has often surpassed the museum space. For example, the exhibition ‘Clouded Lands’ (2017), which took place in Kyiv, is the most prominent recognition and memorial of the Chernobyl disaster.
‘Food Of War’ presents a retrospective of the artist’s most significant projects and a collection of new installations and performances at Saatchi Gallery, London. In addition to historical events, this staggeringly compact exhibition addresses devotion to the environment and the refusal to leave a land that has been destroyed through conflict and animal rights. It exposes capitalism among recently sheltered indigenous communities, desertification through mono-cropping, and botanists’ unintended impact on the world’s ecosystems.
The various nuances that the works present require an in-depth reading to decode. ‘Food of War’ co-founder Omar Castañeda presents multiple pieces collectively titled ‘The Forbidden Fruit’, highlighting how mass consumerism has warped our values and lured us into worshipping capitalism whilst sacred lands are depleted. In one sculpture, tins with bird wings and gold plating sit in bell jars like long-extinct curiosities in a Victorian wunderkammer. Another is a vibrantly painted phallic-like sculpture. A Koons-Esque lacquer evokes the lure and demand for genetically modified produce, simultaneously suggesting an eroticism imbued into consumption, which is nutritionally compromised by steroid-processed foods and distracts viewers from considering the threatened natural habitats. The work symbolises how far society has travelled from the organic essence of the land and echoes the story of original sin, suggesting our relationship to consumption is equally dangerous.
Paintings are also part of ‘The Forbidden Fruit’, resembling a surreal-like, cartoonish environmental disaster which warns us of the effects of, for example, a bee colony collapse. In a series of recorded performances, including multiple members of the collective, Harriet Poznansky plays the violin while circling a vinyl ouroboros speaking about greed and shame. Saskia Kraftowitz conducts participants in black cloaks holding mirrors to their faces. A mouth hole allows the subjects to ask the audience, ‘feed me’ in six different languages. Meanwhile, Hernan Barros presents a copy of the Venezuelan constitution punctured by the teeth of seven anonymous people forced to migrate to Colombia due to extreme hunger.
Another work titled ’Soviet Roulette’ is a spinning platter of apples painted yellow and black to symbolise toxic warning signs. The work references the poisoning of the land after the Chernobyl disaster and the risks that starving families endured by eating local produce after the explosion. Meanwhile, a film by Ukrainian artist Zinaida compares the Chernobyl destruction to a local abattoir, exposing an emotionless procedure behind the systematic slaughter.
The central sculptural installation titled ‘Operation Rabbit’ (2022) refers to the previous Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro and his controversial plan in 2017 to provide starving families with rabbits to combat the lack of affordable meat available in the country. Servers dressed in rabbit masks reach into a bin for carrot soup and fruit ceviche servings to feed the audience. This performance draws parallels to the current food crisis in London, where more people are reported searching for food scraps in the rubbish.
Food of War is a politically profound exhibition filled with dark humour. The collective and guest artists are unapologetic and do not shy away from the subject. Subject matter which would be censored entirely in other countries. Together, the collective reinforces the idea that ‘to eat’ is a political act and that modern-day consumption is not free from conflict.