Get back in the kitchen

by Kitty Drake in May 2021
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Architecture Art & design

Architectural journal The Modernist has themed its 38th issue around the kitchen. The cover star is the test kitchen for groundbreaking African American magazines Ebony, Jet, and Negro Digest. An example of ‘Afrocentric Modernism’, the twirling wallpaper and electric coil stove exemplify the period of the test kitchen’s design: 1971.  

This ability to transport the reader to a different time via a particular room, or wallpaper, or kitchen appliance, is what makes The Modernist such a pleasure to read. Chicago-based photographer and writer Lee Bey is quoted in the article, and he describes the way one American kitchen can shape the mealtimes, and lives of millions: “If your mother cooked like mine did, she tried a recipe out of Ebony… So this kitchen has been responsible for meals for millions of black folks all over the African diaspora.” Bey’s photographs accompany the article.

Another very different kind of kitchen featured in the magazine is based in Manchester, Hulme Crescents. Writer Eddy Rhead tells the story of the kitchen parties in the late 80s and early 90s that were the happy result of a “witches’ brew of easily accessible dole money, the arrival to these shores of life-changing house music and the relatively easy procurement of inexpensive and mind-and-mood-altering drugs”. The photographs accompanying this feature, like those of the Ebony test kichen, are printed in black-and-white. Strangely, this makes the images more, not less, atmospheric. They feel like what they are: period pieces.

The only feature printed in colour (other than the cover) is a centrefold of different beer mats. One of my favourite shows an advert for babycham: “the happiest drink in the word!”. Old adverts like this one tend to evoke nostalgia for time-periods you may never have experienced. The Modernist itself does something similar: it places you on intimate terms with kitchens you have never known.

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