For the times when appetites are appeased and cravings are quenched, food is a source of comfort, a way to reconnect with others, as well as the past. Certain foods have the power to draw us back to old memories, but for migrants and travellers, a sip of tea or a slice of watermelon offer a taste of home.
Photographer Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte is interested in the relationship between food and homesickness. Originally from Vilnius in Lithuania, Kiliulyte is currently based in Scotland where she’s studying photography and moving image at the Glasgow School of Art.
Her own experience of moving away, and discovering a multitude of imported foods shops that commercialise nostalgia, prompted her to create Away Home, a photo shoot on the subject.
“The visual story I am telling is a story of escaping from one’s usual and comfortable surroundings, making a new home and life, and then escaping back through a plateful of nostalgia,” she says.
In preparation for the project, Kiliulyte interviewed people who had emigrated to Scotland like herself, asking what dishes each individual associated with home. The resulting story is made up of classical-looking, painterly still lifes containing vegetables, meats, herbs, drinks, desserts as well as plants or flowers.
Some of the items in these works, such as sushi or Canadian maple syrup, are recognisable national delicacies. But, overall, Kiliulyte discovered that the food choices of her fellow immigrants were often personal, reflecting tastes and family customs, rather than national cuisine.
Away Home merges two artistic genres — portraiture and vanitas painting — to show how food offers a diverse perspective on identity. She describes the photographs as “beautiful and sad glimpses into the world of nostalgic eating”.
In Kiliulyte’s own still life you’ll find: cold borscht; rhubarb; pancakes; beetroot; pickled cucumbers; smoked cheese and fish; tinned peaches; smoked sausage; pears; blackberries and dill.
Out of the people interviewed, Sarah was the only one from Glasgow but, born to Italian parents, her “portrait” combines focaccia and spam, while the roses refer to a memory of her grandmother‘s garden.
Some foodstuffs did not appear in the final works, such as the Libyan dish of bazeen and camel meat Akram remembered eating every Friday.
Moreover, some family specialties could not be recreated, like the tuna apple salad missing from the tropical fruit in Dan’s Australian selection.
Away Home proposes cooking and eating as a way of returning home. Yet the groceries, set against the decontextualized dark background, draw attention to the age-old question: does food abroad ever taste as good as at home?