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Picturing a Family’s History in Food

In her series “Around the Table,” Patcha Kitchaicharoen explores the intersection of family, memory and food. In images and text, the project presents Kitchaicharoen’s painful and sweet recollection of moments from her childhood that revolve around food. The still lifes present strange arrangements of objects and ingredients that illustrate Kitchaicharoen’s narrative vignettes. A block of rice topped by tiny fish accompanies a story about discovering her mother didn’t like sushi after years of eating it, because the rest of her family liked it. “‘I never said anything because of how happy you guys are at a Japanese restaurant. I want everybody to be happy,'” her mother says. An ominous plexiglass box contains a milky soup and floating golf balls, warming in a hotpot. This memory is her father’s, who watched as, after a golf game, a close friend suffered a heart attack after they ordered a special hot and sour soup that was heated with methanol cooking fuel. The man suffered from undiagnosed heart disease, and the fumes triggered the attack, which killed him.”My dad never ordered that soup again,” Kitchaicharoen writes. A sweeter memory involves a recipe loved by Kitchaicharoen’s maternal grandfather, evoked by a bit of squid sitting on a sugar-cube structure and representing the only dish he knew how to cook. “The only time that her dad entered the kitchen was to cook the only recipe he knew, which was boiled squid with soy sauce and sugar. That was my mom’s favorite dish.” Although her mother’s father has been gone for years, “when we honor our ancestors on worship day, she still always cooks this recipe for him,” Kitchaicharoen writes.

The stories in “Around the Table” revolve around the ways food can be used as a substitute for other emotions, from grief and loneliness to devotion and sacrifice, feelings that are mirrored in the poppy and unsettling photos. Writes Kitchaicharoen in a statement about the project, “For me, the ritual of eating becomes more about the memories and experience than the food itself. As a result, each time that I recall a specific food, a memory is conjured of my family and the complexity of our relationship.” The series, she writes, uses “food as a catalyst to uncover those buried memories.”

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