Art on a chopping board: An Insta series celebrates unsung heroes of the kitchen
“It had to begin with the potato,” says Devi Menon, 40, of her Instagram food art series. “My mother, who lives in Kerala, cooks amazing dishes with potatoes that I have sorely missed since we moved to the UK.”
In that first drawing, posted on October 1, an alien stands on a potato, signalling to his fellow aliens that Earth is in lockdown. The caption: “Nope, can’t take any visitors now.”
“An alien standing on a potato asteroid not getting access into earth pretty much sums up 2020 for me,” says Menon, a software engineer.
Since that post, 30 other fruits and vegetables have appeared on the @devimenon Instagram account. There’s the Old Man and the Sea drawing — a cut onion with a bulbous nose made to resemble Hemingway’s old man, content in his last minutes. Which, she admits, “may not be the tone the book ends on”.
She has a Wind in the Willows sketch, based on the children’s book, in which the willow tree is made of instant noodles. And a Lady of (Not) Shallot, a reference to the King Arthur legend, in which Menon’s Lady floats on a boat made out of a chilli.
A fair bit of whimsy informs all her visuals. In the Alibaba and the 40 Thieves sketch, pointed gourds stand like leather jars. “The end results of most of these drawings come out rather unexpectedly. One of the gourd-tops were sliced wrong, so I made a head pop out of it and captioned it ‘A Loo Break’.”
The Scream of Avacadoh is a take on Edvard Munch’s famous art work, with the sliced fruit as the focus. Methisattva is a methi-leaf canopy over the Buddha as he prays for enlightenment.
She calls the vegetables and fruits she uses her unsung heroes of the kitchen.
Originally from Palakkad, Kerala, Menon moved to the UK with her husband in 2012. They now have a five-year-old daughter. In the lockdown, she has been working from home, sharing chores with her husband and cooking a lot more than before.
Her Unsung Heroes series began as part of an online art challenge called Inktober, launched by American artist and comics creator Jake Parker in 2009. Every year, he challenges artists around the world to create one online ink drawing a day, through October. But the Inktober drawings are not Menon’s first art project.
In 2018, New York-based Yali Books published a short graphic novel by her, titled Amla Mater. It was part fiction, part memoir, and the hero was a bottle of amla pickle that helps reunite two friends who hadn’t met for years.
Food and memories associated with food are things every immigrant carries over to a new country, Menon says. “This is what I can pass on to my daughter, who is now five. My stories are peppered with our cooking, our customs, basically all that I grew up with, while acknowledging that my daughter’s references will be different as she grows up in a very different country,” Menon adds.
Menon’s work in Amla Mater was featured in the 2018 catalogue, The Inking Woman: 250 Years of Women Cartoon and Comic Artists in Britain, by Myriad Editions. She plans to do a prequel someday, to travel back in time. “Childhood is a magical place,” she says.