Cuisine is an integral part of any culture, more so in Goan culture where the aroma of sorpatel or caldin will instantly evoke memories of family and home. The Goan diaspora, indeed, seems to draw upon these food-related memories, tangible and intangible, as a means of remaining connected with their roots.
The photograph exhibition Celebrating Goan Food at the Saligao Institute by Dr Marylou Zuzarte will certainly transport you to your mother’s kitchen, reminiscing about times past. The exhibition commenced on December 28, 2022, and will go on until January 3, 2023.
Marylou Zuzarte is a Goan-origin scientist and photographer, undoubtedly two largely unrelated professions. Marylou’s capacity for empathy and her drive to learn about the people around her while refining her photography techniques, allow us to appreciate her raw, vibrant artistic expression.
Life for Marylou began in Uganda, East Africa, but ensuing political disharmony led to her family moving to Kenya during the time she was in Form IV. From there, she left for the United States where she acquired her Bachelor of Science degree.
Regarding her move to Germany, she says, “My move to Germany was for professional reasons and also to raise our children. There I received my PhD in physiology, specialising in potassium channels in the heart and kidney.”
Photography seems to have been a childhood interest of Marylou’s as she recalls with the palpable joy of stepping back into her childhood and reliving those moments that sparked her passion, “My interest in photography began at a young age when my father would occasionally allow us to use his old Agfa 35mm camera. I was 12, I remember, when he said that I could take one picture!”
With a year’s worth of photography training to add to her education, she says candidly, “The real training started when I was behind the camera!”
But what exactly brought on this shifting of gears from one career to another? Her research experience in Germany was more career-oriented, but she could not see a future in it, Marylou enlightens us. She had produced research papers, but there was little to strive for, bringing that career very much to a standstill.
She says, “I decided to concentrate on my photography in the hopes of achieving a goal; firstly, in improving my techniques, and secondly, in displaying my work to the public. Little did I know that this was going to be an interesting but laborious journey!
Marylou’s foray into exhibiting her work began with an interactive exhibition in Berlin in 2015. This exhibition had space in the frame of the photographs that let the viewers express their opinions. “This was my first display of portraits. Portraits are my actual interest,” explains Marylou.
She has a tremendous knack for getting the subjects of her photography to open up by putting them at ease. She says, “I feel their wholeheartedness and how down-to-earth they are. I never bring out the camera first, but instead, have a conversation with them about themselves, basically.”
Voice of Art, Whistleblower, Freedom of Speech was another exhibition held in Berlin from December 2015 to January 2016, where artists were invited to interpret the word “whistleblower”. “It was an arts and human rights event organised by a group called Future Voice,” says Marylou.
At the Berlin Art Week in 2019, there was a showing of Goa: Celebrating the Cuisine at the Zimt & Zucker Gallery, similar to the exhibition being held at Saligao. Marylou says, “This exhibition, like the one in Saligao, is about the 5 senses of the body. When we buy, prepare and grow food, we are always aware of the form and smell of food. This is what this exhibition is about.”
To explain why she chose to concentrate on Goan food in particular in the exhibition Celebrating Goan Food at the Saligao Institute, Marylou says, “I came to Goa for two reasons: one, to reconnect with my Goan culture, and second, to photograph women and recount their stories. I met many women here who inevitably talked about their culinary skills.They were very proud of these skills. And so, in order for them to be comfortable with the camera, I photographed them in the kitchen during their food preparation. This exhibition is a branch of my documentation of my portrait work."
Marylou hopes that observers of the exhibition will recognise her photographs as a significant contribution in light of the rapidly changing food culture in Goa.
She says, “It is easy to see these impressions but difficult to be consistent in your daily life in preserving the culture. I hope that my observers, through my images, can relive their memories and present experiences of the Goan culture.”
Her views on leaving photographs untouched as opposed to using various software to enhance photographs says much about how authentic Marylou’s photography is.
She most emphatically says, “I dislike retouched photographs that have been beautified to the point of unnaturalness. Using extreme editing for a simple portrait is totally unnecessary in my opinion. I capture the persona of the person through the lens only.”
Young photographers, especially those attempting a transition from a different career to photography might do well to heed Marylou’s sound advice.
She says, “Since photography is a very competitive profession, I would advise young people to study another aspect of art or a subject and keep photography as a side study. Don’t aim too high, but first know your camera and the principles of light among other aspects of the camera. Don’t think digital photography is simple. Photography is all about light!”