Maryam Jafri, 'Mouthfeel' (screenshot), 2014, HD video with sound, 21:30 mins, in 'Mouthfeel', at Gasworks, London. Image courtesy Gasworks.org.uk
Maryam Jafri, ‘Mouthfeel’ (screenshot), 2014, HD video with sound, 21:30 mins, in ‘Mouthfeel’, at Gasworks, London. Image courtesy Gasworks.org.uk

With a short film and set of found objects accompanied by text, artist Maryam Jafri confronts the politics, conveniences and health risks provided by the big corporations who sell highly processed food products. Jafri’s exhibition “Mouthfeel” is on at Gasworks in Vauxhall, London until 18 May 2014.

“Mouthfeel” is what happens to meals that are strictly merchandise

In the third of five projects in the year-long programme at Gasworks under the theme, “The Civilising Process”, Maryam Jafri poses her first UK exhibition, in which she attempts to “…unravel the politics surrounding the mass production of processed food.”

Maryam Jafri, 'Mouthfeel' (screenshot), 2014, HD video with sound, 21:30 mins, in 'Mouthfeel', at Gasworks, London. Image courtesy Gasworks.org.uk
Maryam Jafri, ‘Mouthfeel’ (screenshot), 2014, HD video with sound, 21:30 mins, in ‘Mouthfeel’, at Gasworks, London. Image courtesy Gasworks.org.uk

Referring to an industry term that relates to how food is experienced between the cheeks, Jafri’s film “Mouthfeel” [21:30 mins, HD video and sound] depicts a husband and wife who both work for a large multinational conglomerate on the order of Monsanto or Kraft. The husband [played by Alex Blake] is responsible for marketing and brand management, and his wife [played by Maryam Jafri] is a scientist in the research/development team, which has discovered the newest additive to their foods will improve quality for less money…and is potentially dangerous to anyone who eats the products. As she describes her doubts about the situation, he remains unaffected and tells her his shady plans for a strategic marketing campaign to cover up the risks to consumers.

Screenshot from commercial advert for 'Max Fairness for Men' by Fair & Lovely.
Screenshot from commercial advert for ‘Max Fairness for Men’ by Fair & Lovely. Image accessed from YouTube.

Through the film, there are commercial breaks for actual products such as Fair and Lovely Max Fairness for Men, a body moisturiser marketed to Southeast Asian gents that lightens the skin tone, and apparently, helps alabaster-faced people sail through a job interview. Another advert for Coca-cola targeted to Arabic-speaking consumers, ends with the slogan, “خلي بكرة احلى افرح” which means something along the lines of, “Let the Real Thing rejoice” and in this case, “بكرة احلى” could be literally translated as “real sweeter taste”, and so makes no attempt to mask the reference to high sugar content of Coca-cola products.

Like Keren Goldberg, who writes for ArtReview, I too felt Jafri’s film would have been “too obvious” on its own but for these commercial adverts sprinkled in; their cringe-worthy products made the video feel like an episode of my granny’s favourite weekday soaps, whilst adding to the overall context in which film and adverts together offer up a subtle yet stringent critique of the food and cosmetics industry.

Innovation is aim of agribusiness

In the other room, Jafri displays a selection of failed or recalled food-related projects from not-too-distant history, including a box of “PLUSmeat” a soya-based additive for minced meat, to make the hamburger budget stretch a little. Or maybe it was a proposed product for those who like the idea of a vegetarian diet, but only want to commit to 44% of one.

Maryam Jafri, 'Product Recall: An Index of Innovation', installation accompanied by text, 2014, in 'Mouthfeel', at Gasworks, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.
Maryam Jafri, ‘Product Recall: An Index of Innovation’, installation accompanied by text, 2014, in ‘Mouthfeel’, at Gasworks, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.

It’s hard to believe, but at some point, these were real products, such as the Pepsi bottles for babies (when it comes to sugar addiction, I guess it’s best to start ’em early!) Oh wait, there’s a Diet Pepsi version, so infants can have a daily dose of cancer-causing saccharine or aspartame instead. Each item was accompanied by text listing statistics, ingredients, when and where the product was sold along with a summary of the proposed (or actual) marketing strategy.

Maryam Jafri, 'Product Recall: An Index of Innovation', installation accompanied by text, 2014, in 'Mouthfeel', at Gasworks, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.
Maryam Jafri, ‘Product Recall: An Index of Innovation’, installation accompanied by text, 2014, in ‘Mouthfeel’, at Gasworks, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.

Maryam Jafri’s exhibition was certainly thought-provoking, and her point is succinctly made when her husband in the film says, “No one is forced to buy that stuff…they feed it to themselves”. In “Mouthfeel”, Jafri asks the viewer to consider: who is responsible for their own health, the consumer who puts the food into his or her mouth, or the company that provides the food?

Especially in contemporary food production, it seems critical to remember, “Caveat Emptor…let the buyer beware”. Otherwise, it seems, what you eat could kill you.

Mouthfeel billboard on the exterior of Gasworks, Vauxhall, London. Image courtesy gasworks.org.uk
Mouthfeel billboard on the exterior of Gasworks, Vauxhall, London. Image courtesy gasworks.org.uk

More links and information

Exhibition details: Mouthfeel is open at Gasworks, 155 Vauxhall Street, London SE11 5RH from 21 March 2014 to 18 May 2014.

Open Wednesday to Sunday, 12 – 6PM.

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