Project Space: Holly Graham, Sweet Swollen

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Sweet Swollen is a new commission by Holly Graham. Comprising print and audio, these consider historic links between domestic culinary culture and visual culture within Europe.

The works take as their starting point a pair of Meissen porcelain sweetmeat bowls that are currently on display in a collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum. These were made between 176575 and would have, at the time of their production, been considered an artisanal, luxury good, symbolizing the wealth and status of their owner. Visually, they each depict turfy mounds which prop up bowls to hold sugar or sweetened dried fruits, which are in turn flanked by caricatured blackamoor figures who gesture towards the food products in the bowls in front of them. These are part of a wider tradition of similar figurines that embody, and silently testify to, financial gain through processes of colonial exploitation.

Ten etching works on steel depict the hands of a selection of these figurines outstretched and frozen in gestures of servitude. These have been appropriated and cropped from a series of photographic images of the sweetmeat bowls and have been reproduced using a process called sugarlift. This involves the use of a sugar solution to imprint an image onto an etching plate, a process which was developed in Europe in the late 18thcentury, which approximately coincides with the production period of the sweetmeat bowls. In this case it has been reconfigured by the artist to allow the transfer of photographic images. By focusing on the hands of these figurines, Graham aims to use their gestures as an entry point into a discussion around the history of these objects as manifest in their decorative design.

The audio work comprises a series of edited interviews with eight V&A African Heritage tour guides. Conducted by Graham, these explore the violence of colonial history, what it means to encounter these sweetmeat bowls from todays perspective, and personal, social and political connotations associated with sugar and sweet treats.

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