Karl Ohiri & Sayed Hasan, THE RITUAL OF EATING IN "MY GRANDDAD'S CAR"
Photographs by Karl Ohiri. Text by Sayed Hasan.
My Granddad’s Car is the culmination of an ongoing project between two artists, Sayed Hasan and Karl Ohiri. Last May, it featured at London's Southbank Centre as part of the annual Alchemy festival, the biggest celebration of South Asian culture outside the subcontinent.
Karl and I were having a pint in a pub in New Cross, London, when I began a conversation about my grandfather’s car. I had carried the thought of bringing my granddad’s car from Pakistan to England, so I could touch it in my country of birth, for a while, and wanted to share my thoughts with my friend. As I described the rusty beaten up object, something chimed with Karl. By chance he, too, had recently been thinking about his grandfather’s car in Nigeria.
Over the course of the evening we sat around the table, learning about one another’s stories. We had much in common. Both cars were complete wrecks and sat in disrepair in our late grandfathers’ villages, places we had regularly visited throughout our lives. There were many similarities; however, our memories and relationships with our grandfathers’ and their cars were different.
Karl never knew his granddad, who sent his mother from Nigeria to England in the late 1970s during the turmoil of the Biafra war. The physical reminders of his granddad were reduced to a grave, a single portrait and the shell of a Volkswagen beetle. Karl didn’t know that the corroded scrap metal, slumped in a patch of grass in his family compound, belonged to his granddad, until one day he enquired why it was there. As a young man making sense of his history, the revelation that it was once his grandfather’s prized possession, transformed his perception of the object’s value.
My great-grandfather harboured an ambition for his son to live in England and marry an English woman, however, through a twist of fate, it was his grandson, my father, who followed this path. Unlike Karl, I had spent time with my grandfather and rode in the car that belonged to him. A distance created by continents, language-barriers and cultural differences meant there was a bittersweetness to our bond. Over the years, the 1979 Toyota Corolla became a symbol of my grandfather and of a heritage that felt disconnected to my life in the UK. Attempting to bring the car to the country I lived in was a way of connecting two personal worlds, and finally bringing my granddad to England.
That night at the pub in New Cross, we decided to unite our stories and attempt to park our cars together, side-by-side, as an expression of the cultural melting pot we had been raised in, a decision that would lead us on an unpredictable five year journey.
Throughout that time, bringing the cars to England remained our prerogative, but it was our friendship and enthusiasm to immerse ourselves in one another’s cultures that characterised our journey. As we travelled together to Pakistan and Nigeria the daily ritual of eating became an important part of our experience, bringing us closer to each other’s family heritages and histories than the cars could do alone. In documenting events such as sharing meals, we wanted to convey how close the project had brought us together.
The image Breaking Bread (2016) depicts a timeless act which is performed all around the world. While visiting Pakistan, Karl and I ate many pulkas and would often split the first one pulled from the tava, so we could start our meals together. Tearing the bread was an act of brotherhood and a declaration that our homes were open to one another. Days in Qillasattarshah were punctuated by breakfast, lunch and dinner, which were opportunities to spend time with the rest of my family.
In Spread (2016), Karl captures the bustle around the dining table in the Kitchen. There was a harmony in such moments, brought by the assembly of mealtime, and a sense of cohesion brought about through the mutual appreciation of home cooking, which extended from Pakistan to Nigeria.
In Centrepiece (2016) Karl and I sit in the lush green bush of Oforala—in southern Nigeria—scooping pounded yam and dipping it into okra soup, the crushed car of his grandfather placed in the middle of the table as a testament to our many conversations about bringing the cars to the UK—such as our very first in the New Cross pub. We had travelled a long way in the pursuit of our ambition and it seemed fitting to dine in the symbolic presence of a figure our work was dedicated to.
We eventually accomplished our goal of bringing our granddads’ cars’ to England (albeit in fragments) but we brought back much more in the process. The insight we had gained of one another’s countries, through new landscapes, people and food, had broadened our understanding of the world and enabled us to relate to ways of life that would have otherwise remained distant.