In my first discussion with the GCP Producers at the beginning of this fellowship we spoke about using one of my films to explore the connections between Africans living in America and African-Americans. As the daughter of a Gambian immigrant this topic hit very close to home. After talking a little about my dad’s experience in the States, we all agreed that looking at his life here could provide an interesting perspective into the subject.
My dad’s creativity is the backbone of this piece. As a batik artist and photographer it’s what has allowed him to build a career here in his adopted country. The images he paints reflect the scenes from home that have remained on his heart over the years. He puts everything into his work, it’s an integral part of who he is. As a result, everyone who comes into contact with my dad’s work gets a little piece of him, and a little piece of Gambia as well.
His creativity extends beyond his canvas and into the kitchen. When he came to the US food was one of the only physical ties he could maintain to home, so he taught himself to emulate the flavors he grew up tasting. When I reflect on my own life, my dad’s cooking was was the first and most consistent element of Gambian culture that I had growing up, and it remains one of the most memorable elements of my childhood and adolescence. Whether he was cooking for just our family or for a big crowd, his food has always been a very tangible way for him to share his culture with his loved ones and friends in America.
In terms of production, I wanted to connect the dots between his cooking and his painting to show that both are extensions of his creativity, his personality, and his world view. The dish he prepares in the piece is called Benachin, which is a Wolof word that translates to “one-pot” in English. It’s a staple dish in Gambia and Senegal, served as both a common meal and when people welcome others into their home. Though he only cooks on screen for a short time, this dish really embodies what I wanted to convey in the piece. In terms of my dad’s personality, it represents how he takes everything that life throws at him and uses it to make something positive. “One-pot” is also a metaphor for the idea of the American melting pot. Though we know that idea works far more in theory than in real life, it well reflects the optimism my dad had when he came to the US, and the hopes that many still carry as they make their way to this country.
Lastly, cooking Benachin serves as a virtual welcome for the viewer into my dad’s creative process, into our family, and into Gambian culture in general. In his own peaceful, methodical way my dad has used his creative gifts to show the world how connected we are as people across the diaspora. He will continue to advocate for us to build stronger connections as we collectively fight for our freedom, and it will continue to be a privilege for me to call him my dad. I hope you enjoy the piece and I hope you enjoy getting to know a little more about him.