In the latter half of 2020, a year rife with political, social and cultural upheaval across the globe, writer and photographer Teju Cole began to photograph items on his kitchen counter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, every day for a period of five weeks. Leaving the arrangements of pots, plates and utensils in the “unpredictable constellations” that emerge from daily life, Cole took still lifes inspired by the tradition of Dutch master painters of the 18th and 19th century. Juxtaposed with pages from a cookbook handwritten in Cambridge in the 18th century, Cole’s formal series draws the world on a kitchen counter. In the essay at the end of the book, Cole reflects in depth on the project itself and the tradition of the still life as a genre, diving into historical and cultural aspects as well as relationship to power, food, and hunger.
“‘We see abundant citrus, in a land where it struggles to grow. There is almost always Ming porcelain, but we are not in China,’ he writes. ‘The world is contained in these paintings, but not only contained, owned.’ In the contemporary moment, this calls to mind how our food reaches us ordinarily and in times of crisis. Who has the luxury to have groceries delivered, and who has to deliver them?”
— Megan N. Liberty in Art Agenda