Sarah K. Khan’s Feminist Take on a 16th-Century Cookbook



Sarah Okay. Khan, “Vigilant Defiance, To Arms Freedom Fighter Abebach (Myrrh)” (2020), print on handmade Wasli paper, on an etching press, infused etching ink and important oils and extracts, 33 x 24 inches (all pictures courtesy the artist)

PORTLAND, Maine — In Nasir Shah’s Guide of Delights (Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī) ladies are depicted tending to the wants of Sultan Ghiyas al-Din Khilji (dominated 1469–1500). As a part of her ongoing exploration of various meals cultures, Pakistan-born artist Sarah Okay. Khan confronts this Sixteenth-century Persian cookbook, which is held in the British Library, to liberate its unnamed African, Arab, Turkic, and Central Asian ladies so they might pursue their very own pleasures. She additionally arms them towards their oppressors. 

In contemplating these attendants left nameless, Khan requested, “From the place, in that huge Central Indian and African Indian Ocean World, did they arrive? What have been their nuanced narratives? Did they take into account the work a delight?” These queries, taken from her assertion for the exhibition Pleasure & Defiance, led her to the query that impressed her work: “If the polyethnic world of the zenāna/harem prospered unfettered, with the Sultan cancelled, what may these un-imagined lives and worlds dream into?” 

Throughout 10 etchings on handmade Wasli paper, every measuring 33 by 24 inches, Khan responds to those ideas. The unbound figures benefit from the freedom to work together with one another playfully, however the artist additionally allows them to comprehend their company in battle as she transports them to the current to struggle towards disinformation and different evils. Khan infuses the prints with inks and important oils, extracts, and spices, together with cloves, cinnamon, and myrrh, to mirror the sensory pleasures discovered of their new lives. 

Sarah Okay. Khan, “Defend or Destroy” (2023), matte porcelain, glaze, decals, 8 x 4.5 x 1 inches every

The figures in Khan’s prints are named after feminine freedom fighters from South Asian, Southwest Asian, and Pan African cultures. She accompanies every picture with a brief narrative. For “Vigilant Defiance: To Arms Freedom Fighter Abebach (Myrrh)” (2020), she relates how the warrior Abebach, proven wielding a Luger pistol atop a swift Persian stallion, “heeds the decision of the midwives and herbalists, on the edges of their forests, to assist them struggle towards trespassers on their sacred domains, and the merciless enemies of local weather science cause.” 

In 18 smaller letterpress prints measuring 19 by 13, Khan presents what she calls “absolutely frontal femmes”: portraits of ladies “of large delight” armed with “Weapons of Mass Creation-Destruction,” together with rolling pins, swords, wine glasses, and blow torches. The smiling Tashu, for instance, bears a long-handled spoon and bowl. 

Ceramic items that Khan fabricated throughout her Arts/Business residency on the Kohler Basis manufacturing facility in 2022 are on view as properly. As she defined in an interview in Garland Magazine, after studying the fundamentals of slip forged molding, glazing, and firing, she labored with artists and technicians at Kohler to make multiples of meals ware and the aforementioned weapons of mass creation/destruction that she imagined or discovered within the Sixteenth-century manuscript. 

Sarah Okay. Khan, “Shero Plate” (2023), porcelain, glaze, multicolor particulars

Embellished with varied pictures, together with decals of figures, flowers, and different designs, every merchandise bears an both/or title associated to its utilization. Khan names a trio of adorned matte porcelain Lugers “Defend or Destroy” whereas a short-handled knife presents the choice “Slice or Sever.” These titles underscore the double-edged nature of those weapons and kitchen utensils.

The exhibition consists of plates, cups, pots, decanters, an oven, and different kitchenware bearing pictures of Khan’s “sheros” in addition to intricate patterns, stylized designs, and Sanskrit textual content. A recast tile mural depicts dhows crusing upon the “African Indian Ocean Worlds, unbound.” 

A brief “fabulation animation” options “world femmes” Marjane and Uzza engaged in an act of creation in the course of the monsoon. As Khan notes, they “advance their dynamic, multisensory therapeutic arts” by infusing their world with native “food-medicine-essences,” together with black pepper, rose, and bitter orange. Made throughout her 2021–22 Artwork Hx artist residency at Princeton College, and produced for this exhibition with artist/editor Aaron Granat, this animation provides one other participating layer to her response to The Guide of Delights.   

Taken collectively, Khan’s work brilliantly reframes age-old storylines as trendy allegories. From an historical assortment of recipes, she has conjured a phalanx of unfettered ladies. “By recasting the previous,” she writes, “I guarantee boundless futures.” 

Sarah Okay. Khan, “Tashu” (2021), printed on a letterpress on Wasli paper infused with spices, mixtures, and essences, 19 x 13 inches
Sarah Okay. Khan, “Slice or Sever” (2023), porcelain, glaze, decals, 23 x 7 x 1.5 inches

Sarah K. Khan: Pleasure & Defiance continues at Cove Road Arts (71 Cove Road, Portland, Maine) by means of October 7. The exhibition was curated by the Indigo Arts Alliance the place Kahn was artist in residence in 2019.


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