“This kind of education is not just taught, it’s carried with us in our flesh and bones…”– Maxine Maistry
My practice is centered around disrupting power structures that lie within education systems by reconsidering and redefining what we identify as classrooms and spaces of learning- questioning the integrity of institutional education, and highlighting the equal importance of social learning and indigenous knowledge systems. Catering specifically to my experiences as an Indian, South African woman, I work through a practice of observation and documentation, working alongside my grandmother (Ma) who is both the the subject and co-creator of many of my works.
Reimagining the domestic space as a classroom, I turn my focus towards posture, gesture and body language, looking at how our bodies become vessels of knowledge that we carry with us from generation to generation. For women like Ma, the domestic space is the only classroom she’s ever known, and while the education she’s received within this space is not institutionally recognized, it is a type of education that supports her livelihood and ensures that the history of the practices she engages with, as well as the ways in which it is tied to the South African Indian community, continues to survive in a modern, colonized society that doesn’t always prioritize or value the importance of oral histories and social learning.
“Watch me while I work, let me teach you like my mother taught me.”2023, Acrylic and Chalk Paint on Board, 120cm
I said…This is not a salt and pepper kitchen. (Click on me!)
- Put newspaper down when you’re working so that you don’t mess everywhere, keep the dirt one side.
- Don’t throw away tea bags when you finished, keep it and put it in the plants outside.
- Collect the vegetable peels and use it as compost.
- Make a turmeric paste and put it on cuts and burns to heal faster.
- When you boil sugar beans and broad beans, put a spoon in the water to make it cook fast and soft.
- Use corn starch to thicken the curry if it’s too weak.
- Don’t cut your nails in the kitchen, that’s bad luck.
- Make sugar water for a stomach ache.
- Boil rosemary and curry leaves with coconut oil, leave it to cool and rub it in your hair to make it strong and thick.
- Don’t throw away the margarine, yoghurt and ice cream containers- keep it for when visitors come.
Pedagogies Across The Kitchen Table
Growing up, majority of the knowledge that was passed down to me was centered around domestic based knowledge shared and taught around the kitchen table. Some of the most intimate conversations and moments we’ve shared as a family happen around this table, it’s a place where we unconsciously congregate, and come together, spending hours unpacking our days, sharing stories, memories, cooking, eating, arguing and making amends.
The Kitchen table is in many ways a site specific pedagogy of its own, that is in it’s simplicity, a reference to the complexities of knowledge production and distribution that is both cultural and generational. It is an access point to a kind of learning and engagement with education that is deeply personal, and dependent on memory, routine and day-to-day experiences.
Pedagogies Across the Kitchen Table (2023) is an installation work that consists of a canvas based tablecloth containing repeated outlines of objects that are familiar to me in my kitchen. They are objects that are specific in their function, shape and size. Each object is linked to a recipe that is hand written on blue lined exercise book paper that contain written documentation of a recipe, technique or process that was taught to me around the Kitchen Table through both conversation and observation. As a result of this type of learning process, the recipes are not precise, fixed pieces of writing- but rather a gesture towards the quick and often spontaneous nature of social learning.
Work Dress (2023) is an installation work that speaks to this idea of having a particular piece of clothing that is associated with work- often existing in the form of a work dress, shirt or apron, and at most times floral or filled with elaborate patterns. It’s a signifier of a different mindset, an indication of “I am working now”…
The concept of a work dress is something I’ve noticed amongst the women in my family, each one of them have that one particular dress or apron that accompanies them through every task, sunshine or rain, inside or outside, day or night. They often never go a day without wearing it, and make a habit of handwashing it every 2-3 days with a bucket and bar of sunlight soap outside. Each dress, shirt, or apron also comes with a story of how they got it, who gave it to them and how they’ve altered it over the years to mend it or make it fit better.
For Ma, it is a simple three quarter, black dress with short sleeves, covered in a mesmerizing array of purple and white flowers. The dress is often paired with a faded tie-back apron, fluffy pink slippers and a neatly tied ponytail. It was given to her by one of her closest friends, Aunty Shiela, and has been a part of her work routine for over 15 years.
Maxine Maistry (2002) is a visual artist born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. Maistry is in her final year of study, and will graduate in 2024, obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand. She was nominated as a finalist for the Wits Young Artist Award in 2022, received the Standard Bank African Art Book Prize in 2023 and was one of the participating artist in the Turbine Art Fair (TAF) Graduate Show in July 2023.
Interested specifically in the areas of education, oral histories and forms of critical pedagogy, Maistry uses her work as a space to explore the ideas of social learning, generational knowledge, storytelling, and the body as a vessel of education through practices of observation, painting, writing and photography- all of which are informed by her grandmother as well as her individual experience as an Indian woman growing up in South Africa. Her work aims to redefine what we call a classroom, challenging the kinds of content, power relations and skills that continue to persist in institutional academic spaces.