Kulturens Mamma - a platform for food, art and community farming in the neighborhood of Fittja

A conversation between the artist, educator and gardener Sarasvati Shrestha and curator Anneli Bäckman.

Kulturens Mamma (Mother of Culture) is an homage to the earth as bearer of all cultures, our mothers’ and fore-mothers’ bodies and work. It is also a point of intersection for art, horticulture, conversations and teaching. The idea was to create places for community farming in neighbourhoods, providing the opportunity for children and youths to learn more about horticulture and edible plants.

Sarasvati Shrestha initiated the urban garden Kulturens mamma in connection with the exhibition Mami : Ama : Mödrar (2020). In the spring of 2024, Sarasvati is collaborating with Residence Botkyrka to further her research on art and farming in urban spaces.

Kulturens Mamma, summer 2022. Photo: Anneli Bäckman

Tell us more about Kulturens Mamma? What did you want to create with this urban garden in this specific place?  

The most important thing for me was to create a context that combined gardening, teaching and food in close proximity to art. For me these fields are not clearly demarcated, what is considered to be art and as opposed to horticulture, for example. Instead I was interested in creating a form or home in which art and gardening could meet and be reunited. And it felt important to do it in Fittja specifically, which is such a dynamic place, especially in collaboration with kids. It’s always so wonderful when a child pulls its first carrot from the soil. It feels important to pass on this experience and the contact with them.

Yes, really! I’ve seen how the kids flock around the garden when you are giving a workshop or when we have harvested something.

Yes, many young guys on scooters that happen to pass by put away their mobile phones in order to get their hands dirty in the soil and discover something exciting there. This convinced me that many of us harbour this longing.

has seen three seasons in which mostly kids from the neighbourhood have participated in the growing and harvesting. And last summer they painted planters in the art project “Create with Luz”. How would you like to see the urban garden developing in the future?

I would like it to continue growing and being run by common forces. I think it’s a great idea that planters can be loaned out to others, like Kindergartens for example. It’s also ideal if someone is in charge and there is a schedule for sowing, planting and communal harvesting. This creates occasions for celebrating these moments together. The central idea behind this garden is doing it together. I also see that the encounters are just as much about nurturing our relationships with each other in a community and a place.

In addition, I also think it’s nice that kids are the primary group of gardeners, and originally the idea was that the children would treat their mothers to a meal that they had cooked from what had been grown there. We did it in the first season on a small scale because of the pandemic, but it would be great to continue and develop the idea.

I see that there is great interest among children, youths and adults who want to increase their knowledge of gardening and locally produced food. How can we imagine a cycle of teaching and taking care of the place?

The best thing would be for the program of growing vegetables and cooking to happen regularly and be linked in a way, for example by harvesting and cooking together or taking the vegetables home once a week. It would also be good to have a compost for weeds and other plant material that is removed. Composting and restoring nutrients to the soil is a key part of the cycle.

Horticulture has, after all, become a growing field within art that allows stories to emerge and where different skills meet. What does your practice look like in your different roles as artist, educator and gardener?

For me, gardening and the entire plant kingdom are a large palette of colours and shapes that I constantly work with and relate to. It’s also a way of expressing myself and something that brings people together and creates synergies. It’s part of the art for me – gathering people around a particular task or topic, or a practice such as gardening. My way of working with art is also a form of social practice.

Gardening also acts as a generator for different ideas, although not all of them necessarily have to do with horticulture. For me, it is also important to be able to move between these different fields, from the local environment to contexts concerning the conditions of growers around the world, which helps me gain a bigger perspective and participate in the collective and global political movement lobbying for the rights of small-scale farmers. That breadth is also about gaining more ecological knowledge, tearing down boundaries for what we consider art and horticulture, because everything is connected anyway, which means that we need to be able to work in an interdisciplinary way and be open to all professional fields and forms.

And how do you see the role of art in processes and projects related to gardening in urban environments?

Yes, that’s an important question because the city and the countryside have been separated so much, with the resources of the countryside being extracted to feed the cities. And what we need to do is fill the knowledge gap around this production chain and create alliances between initiatives in different places in the city and the countryside. We need to raise questions such as: where do the raw materials come from? How and by whom are they being produced? This knowledge gap is a global problem. And here I see art as a platform that can raise these challenges from multiple perspectives that also involves the education of the general public.

The growing of vegetables leads us to Fittjaköket and cooking, which is also part of your artistic palette.

For me, cooking is an incredibly important part, and something that I would like to develop even further, based on my experiences of sharing meals. I want to highlight the solidarity of cooking and eating that is different from expensive restaurant visits that involve a division between the one who consumes and the one who produces. I am interested in creating a whole that brings together the growing and the meal, the working together.