• ‘You Are What You Eat’ by Maksud Ali Mondal | India

    Artist Maksud Ali Mondal discusses his work and shares images and the brochure text from his installation You Are What You Eat included in the traveling exhibition CRITICAL ZONES, IN SEARCH OF A COMMON GROUND on the critical ecology of the Earth that was presented in collaboration with Goethe-Institute, Kolkata and ZKM Karlsruhe the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and Indian Museum, Kolkata (February 16 – April 2, 2023).

    Artist Statement

    My practice aims to facilitate an experiential understanding of organisms in a durational, built microcosm, using sculpture, painting, installation and photography. I am interested in generating reflections on how we understand ourselves in relation to each other, including other species, organisms and civilizations, as well as our place in the transforming environment. 

    My work deals with microbial contamination as a conversational expression, based on the observation of growth, transformations, and decomposition of organic matter by bacteria, fungi, microbial creatures, fermentation, oxidation and rotting, as well as with the organic, man-made, found objects and everyday discarded materials.

    This project is comprised of three glass boxes each sized 4' L x 4' W x 7' H and made up of insects, mycelium, mushrooms, ants, flies, and other phenomena of nature which continued evolving the work and consuming the body of the artwork.  

    You Are What You Eat Installation  - excerpt from brochure text in Critical Zones, In Search of a Common Ground / Local Artists Interventions, conceptualized by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel and curated by Mira Hirtz and Daria Mille.

    Anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes in her book, The Mushroom at the End of the World—‘When Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb in 1945, it is said, the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a “matsutake” mushroom’. Scientists have discovered that a strand of fungi in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant feeds on radiation; clearly, it has the potential to decompose radioactive material present at the site.

    We share this planet with plants, animals and billions of other organisms—insects, bacteria, lichen, spores, fungi, and so on. They have a way of healing the earth by consuming toxic substances or transforming many other species around them; how fungi decompose everything and turn them into soil, termites break down wood log and leaf litter or the fungi at Chernobyl decomposing radioactive material.

    In today’s time, the food or vegetables that come onto one’s plate are not as nutritious as one thinks them to be
    —the reasons are varied and complex. As concerns around the production and consumption of food permeate the environmental discourse today, a more nuanced, existential question continuously crops up— at this point in history, as species, what are our ways to co-exist with other living forms? In this research-based, slow-growth project, the artist attempts to engage with our daily environment and explore the symbiotic relationship between our food and their food—the food we humans eat and the food they, the microorganisms eat.


    Maksud Ali Mondal was born in Bankura, West Bengal, India and currently lives and works in Santiniketan. He completed his BFA and MFA from Kala Bhavan, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, in 2019 with a semester at the Royal Academy of Art, Netherlands, in 2016. He received an international award from the Kochi-Muziris Students' Biennale in 2019, the INLAKS fine art award in 2021, and the National Scholarship from the Ministry of Culture, India, in 2018. Maksud also participated in an international residency in Sicily, Italy in 2018. His work has been showcased as part of Five Million Incidents, a year-long series of projects organised by the Goethe Institut, Delhi and Kolkata, and curated by Raqs Media Collective, in 2020.; the Serendipity Art Festival 2019, in collaboration with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art; and Artissima Art Fair, Italy 2021.