SERVING: CULTURE – Ed’s Letter.

“That’s what culture is: it’s community, it’s belonging, it’s unity.”

A little while ago, deputy editor Annette Kemp suggested a culture issue. We brainstormed how to best display the vast noun visually. What does culture even mean these days? It’s such an add-on, kind-of applies to anything, Instagram-loved, marketing hype word. Phrases like ‘do it for the culture!’ show how important this concept is to a generation that’s been accused of not having our own defining culture; regurgitating, re-making and remixing past pop-culture and social sub-cultures.

At this point I’ve said culture 6 times but bare with me.

We asked: How do we illustrate ‘culture’ in a South African context? Because it is quite a feat to embark on, considering how diverse the word is locally. All it embodies. I think we often take this for granted. What could we do that brought it all together in one concept?

“The items that kept popping up on each table top- these common threads- touched me most.”

I thought back to what culture means to me: It means identity. Because my projected and internalised identity has defined my sense of culture. Being a biracial caucasian and Asian South African, my identity is a very contentious subject for me- and strangers I come across. I suppose because putting those 3 things into one sentence seems almost contradictory. I’ve had many people uncomfortably squirm as I declare myself South African, white or Asian. Safe to say, my idea of culture is quite unique. If people think that my very existence is contradictory imagine what they would have thought of my family gatherings, I mused; who was there, what it looked like, the traditions involved, the food served. The food.

When I think of my upbringing- my roots- I think: peppermint tart, my grandpa’s curry, my gran’s potato salad, my aunt’s cowboy pie, orange Fanta, Mince Mate, leftover braai meat, tomato Simba chips and Gilatti ice creams. On the other hand I think: shared dishes on a round turn table, setting the table with china bowls, chopsticks and rice, big pots of rami, congee on the stove, hoisin-marinated pork fillets on the braai, coconut juice, Rabbit rice paper-wrapped sweets, sugared mangoes from Hong Kong…

“…your own imaginary table is likely a mix of many cultures that formed your identity, too.”

That got me thinking: What other food stories exist in SA? What would other imaginary tables look like? What unique stories did these tables tell? There’s something about a table of dishes, snacks and drinks that really illustrates and brings a person or peoples multiple identities together. I feel like whether you’re biracial or not, your own imaginary table is likely a mix of many cultures that formed your identity, too. That’s why culture in SA is such a special, multi-faceted concept.

So we got to pulling together creative teams to shoot the cover. And as the dishes, snacks and drinks that Jodie Petersen, Tzara and Denver spoke about came together in real life three things hit me: how different each table looked, how symbolic these items were to each person’s culture, community and individual journies, and the items that appeared throughout.

It was the items that kept popping up on each table top- these common threads- that touched me most. They showed a thread of unity that is very specific to South Africans. No matter who you are, where you’re from, who you become, at the end of the day you will always have a soft spot and a place on your table for: Freshpak rooibos tea, Kellog’s cornflakes, Ace maize meal and Cerebos salt. That’s what culture is: it’s community, it’s belonging, it’s unity.

So take a seat at our cover creatives’ tables this issue. Everyone’s welcome.

Yours in creativity + collaboration,

Z

Zoya Pon (@thatasiangirlza / zoyapon@gmail.com)

What does ‘culture’ mean to you? Hit us up on InstagramFacebook or mail us at collab@threemag.co.za with your submissions!

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