Daily and Festive Rituals

The Everyday and Festive Rituals Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok

Holy Food, installation (platform, jacquard fabric, 37 trays, dishes and produce, size 20 x 1600 x 90 cm

Photos: Maciej Zaniewski, artists archive

The first aim of the Daily and Festive Rituals exhibition is to take a close look at rituals rooted in religion, tradition and culture. The display also provides a pretext for posing a number of rhetorical questions: Do people need religion and what do they need it for? What is the position of spirituality in our world? What are the everyday and festive ceremonies relating to transcendence? As manifestation of spirituality and faith, rituals occupy a key role in our lives, testifying to the efforts we make to experience a relationship with God, the Absolute, and the Sacred. Nowadays, daily life has an increasingly secular nature and one of the methods for restoring a religious and spiritual sense of life is ritual: a symbolic act that involves imagination, emotions and personal beliefs. The search for one’s own place in the universe is typical of all human beings, yearning for spiritual nourishment and metaphysical experience that goes beyond reason in everyday life. The Daily and Festive Rituals exhibition provides a wide range of models of ritual human action and experience – both, in the sacred sphere and in day-to-day life. Problems addressed by the artists include, for instance, inner peace and harmony, spiritual pilgrimage and prayer. Selected works see art as religion and secular rites as part of social and political life.

Evolving in time, Dorota Podlaska’s Holy Food (2016) is a large piece comprising meals and foodstuffs to which tradition, religion or magic have attached symbolic meanings. Longer than ten metres, a low table/platform accommodating 37 dishes one needs to bow to reach points out to the shared core of diverse rites and customs. Sharing food, getting to know other cultures through culinary traditions is also deeply significant – every day one of the viewers receives a dish and the platform is getting emptier. The ‘collage of holy food’ constitutes universal nourishment for the body and the spirit, regardless of all divisions.

Michał Jachuła, 2016, fragment of curatorial text


Food has numerous symbolic meanings related to spirituality, religion, magic, and attempts at propitiating deities or casting spells. Most cultures share the belief that all good things are given by gods so meals can have a deep religious significance. Some foods acquire special meaning on particular occasions. Literal or symbolical, food sacrifice is found in every culture and religion, being one of the most basic forms of cult apart from prayer. Sacrifice is offered to deities or deceased ancestors. Dorota Podlaska’s installation refers to those rites. On a low platform covered with red fabric there are dishes that carry symbolic meaning in different cultures. Trays bearing foodstuffs have been placed close to the ground as a gesture of serfdom. In most cultures that involve sacrificing real food, it cannot be wasted – it must be available to people once deities have used it.

Dorota Podlaska


Symbolic meaning of foods – some examples:

Pineapple – a symbol of hospitality in colonial America
Pomegranate – in Christian iconography, a pomegranate in the hand of the Mother of God stands for fertility but if it is held by the baby Jesus it foretells the coming Passion. In Jewish tradition, it symbolizes faithfulness to the Pentateuch
Grapes symbolize redemption, fertility, happiness and charity
Oranges symbolize abundance, wealth and success in life
Egg – in Christianity, it is a symbol of the resurrection of Christ and humans. The Slavs believed it had the power to protect against evil and magic. In Judaism, it reminds of the continuous and cyclic nature of life. Served at the wake, eggs stand for broken life and are an expression of hope that is never to be given up.