Sri Lankan cooking is becoming increasingly well-known and popular. There is a “Little Sri Lanka” in Tompkinsville, Staten Island; one of the five boroughs of New York City. “Taste of Home: Cooking Sri Lankan in New York” reflects on the immigrant experience through something as elemental as food, and the seemingly simple but deceptively complex challenge of making the tastes of home in a new country. The daily ritual of shopping for fresh vegetables, selecting and mixing spices and preparing curries is a focus of family life in Sri Lanka – a lush Island country of 21 million people, located off the tip of India.
For the thousands of Sri Lankans who have settled in New York, replicating the familiar act of finding and making food without the bounty of fresh tropical ingredients readily available at home, has become its own art form. These photos follow Sri Lankan women as they shop for and select ingredients in supermarkets and ethnic stores.
The images of each of the immigrant women, shown up-close as they engage in the meditative and solitary daily practice of cooking and as they interact with others in their adopted world, will provide visual insight into their personalities, triumphs and struggles. Photos of their finished dishes will also be included, along with recipes. Accompanying text will give background about where they come from in Sri Lanka and what brought them here. The images, text and recipes will be compiled into a book and will be available for sale. The book will offer readers of all backgrounds a connection to the Sri Lankan community through its cuisine – a style of cooking that draws on a subtle and complex play of fresh, hand-ground spices, tropical fruits, greens, curries and lentils, all
accompanied by coconut “symbol” and fiery chutneys.
Sri Walpola is a photojournalist with a background in studio photography. He brings more than two decades of experience behind the camera to this project. He worked for the New York Times, the BBC and The Hindu and Frontline, the Ceylon Daily News among other publications and served as a special presidential photographer in his native Sri Lanka. More than anything, as a Sri Lankan immigrant himself, he has a deep understanding of what it takes to cook the food of home in his adopted country.
The photos of Sri Walpola will be on exhibit from January through February 2011 in the Reference Room, located on the Lower Level.
The opening reception for this exhibit will be on Saturday, January 15th at 2:00 pm.
This project was sponsored by grants from the Council on the Arts and Humanities Staten Island and JP Morgan Chase.