Keymea Yazdanian is a photographer of Iranian heritage who grew up in Britain. Through her project Sabzi, an ongoing visual diary of life at home in the diaspora, she explores the rituals of cooking that people bring with them when they migrate - the objects and gestures of food and eating that can transport you to another time and place.
Growing up, I always felt a crisis of identity: Being Iranian but living in Britain, the separation from Iran felt tangible. I believed that going back was the only way I could truly connect to it. Every time I went, I would document the experience as a means to hold onto each of my memories so I'd always have something of it in me. Ultimately, it became the main focus of my photography practice. As I got older and politically it became harder to go back regularly, I started ‘Sabzi’ and by so doing finally began to realise that Iran was in me and all around me all along and that people carry their country and culture with them when they migrate.
Photography, for me, has always been a way to understand and express ideas about identity, cultural narratives, memory and female storytelling. I had always loved looking at spaces where women gather, I find how tactile, evocative and layered those spaces are fascinating. Intrigued by how people display parts of themselves through their homes and habits, in particular of those who have migrated. One of the spaces that has spoken most to me is the kitchen.
I always thought I had no place there because I’m not that confident cooking, but it turns out that the kitchen is very much my favourite place to be. It is also, in hindsight, one of the places where I have learned most about my heritage. In all those afternoons drinking tea and telling stories with the women of my family.The recipes and rituals of the kitchen are forever woven with our own histories, memories and sense of identity.
The more I studied these spaces the more I fell in love and became more in awe of these women. What I understood from them in this space is that when you flee a country to seek a better life, regardless of there being things that made you leave, missing the lands and the people you leave behind creates a pain in your heart that will never go. I could sense my previous generations and history in the small gestures of de-stemming herbs, in the tiny pots of sugar cubes everywhere, in the endless smells, textures and tastes that stirred up in our little Persian kitchen in Hertfordshire.
The way people connect themselves back to the countries they have left is so often through food and I find this quality of food and eating so unique and beautiful. The rituals and ceremonies of eating and the stories behind all the ingredients are so part of our culture and the way we connect to our history. The added beauty is it's universality, that this atmosphere can be found in all cultures. We all have relationships with food, it excludes no one.
Anything from burning wild rue seeds in the house to ward off evil spirits, to a cup of tea with a digestive – they will always take us back to a sense of home. The capacity to connect ideas without translation and give a sense of shared connection is at the heart of a kitchen.
If you would like to take part in 'Sabzi' please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You also now have the chance to taste some of the cooking that inspired the project as Keymea’s family set up Sabzi Box to share not only their passion for food but food cooked with love during lockdown. Home cooked, Persian food, delivered.