Miss Congo lies on her back dressed in a washed, paint print denim suit, with a salmon-coloured bandana on her head as she sews, intermittently screaming out in agony as her needle pricks through the fabric.
This is a scene from artist Athi-Patra Ruga’s 2007 body of work Miss Congo. Last week, at the opening of the artist’s latest exhibition, Queens in Exile, guests were treated to a dinner with a menu that reads like a retrospective culinary take on the artist’s work.
The cook, Zolitha Magengelele, named her dishes Miss Congo, Injibhabha, Beiruth, Illulwane and Miss Azania – all characters from Ruga’s work, spanning a decade.
“It was a celebration of the tenth year since Athi embarked on his art career, so this was a celebration of that, drawing inspiration from his Xhosa roots, and him being a modern man,” Magengelele explains. “The dishes all take elements of Xhosa traditional cuisine, and are inspired by the colours and textures from the relevant works.”
The Miss Congo dish, for instance, comprised beetroot and ginger-cured salmon ribbons, mascarpone crème, ginger-beet chutney and umphokoqo – a crumbly mealie meal starch.
“Although the costume had been created before his residency in Switzerland, while there he realised its similarity to a racist political poster produced by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), in which three snow-white sheep are seen kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag.”
In interpreting Injabhabha as a dish, Magengelele served sheep’s cheeks terrine, split pea and mealie rice risotto, with caramelised butter, sweet potato and beetroot crumble.
Charred marrow bone, with deep-fried lamb’s tongue, turmeric cabbage consomme and Parmesan and sweet potato dumplings were served under the name Beiruth, another of Ruga’s photographic artworks, while the Miss Azania dish was a serving of umleqwa we piri piri (peri-peri free-range, homegrown chicken) and an apple and fennel slaw.
• Magengelele is behind The Cook’s Table, an experimental series of pop-up dinners hosted at a variety of venues, and often at artists’ studios.
• This article was originally published in The Times.