onionskin, avocado, and garlic-dyed cotton, ceramic, thread, garlic, wood, and steel
dimensions variable
commissioned by Auckland Art Fair and supported by Creative New Zealand
activated by Jordan Davey-Emms


Casey Carsel creates contexts for communal storytelling that operate across generations and geographies. In this work, the artist uses the symbol of garlic in Jewish culture to locate the Jewish experience. Historically representing good health, garlic has also been weaponised within anti-Semitic propaganda as part of a supposed inherent ‘Jewish stink’. In addressing and untangling strands of historical bias against Jewish people, including this desire to insult and exclude, Carsel has brought small cotton ‘blotter strips’ together with a larger patchwork. These strips are impregnated with the smell of garlic and will be given away during the Fair. 

By creating this pervasive smellscape and gifting these scented patches, the work triggers the audience towards their own subjective associations and memories of the smell. Through this experience, Carsel draws attention to the ways in which symbols can function as powerful tools that shape identity, politics and memory. As the Fair progresses, blotter strip dispersed with audience members—allowing each blotter to continue being transformed, absorbing new smell, meaning and life. 


“In the old Yiddish song knobl—soup, a mother who has lovingly made a garlic soup for her family’s dinner tells of each child’s requests for rich and lavish meals—impossible demands for their impoverished household—and disappoints each one in turn when all that is waiting for them is garlic soup.  

For thousands of years, garlic bloomed as a core ingredient of Jewish culture—a cheap food with which to fill a poor stomach, a food of celebration, a food of good health. Garlic is also, however, bound to anti-Semitic propaganda within the concept of foetor Judaicus (‘Jewish stink’): a devil-like, sulphurous, garlicky scent supposedly emanating from every Jew.

Though historically garlic and Jewish culture were closely intertwined (for better or for worse), garlic is rarely recognised in the present day as a cultural signifier of Jewishness (also for better or for worse). Like many historical symbols of Jewish identity, the association with garlic has disappeared, replaced by other icons and other options.

I gather this sweet and sulphurous history as a starting-point towards constructing at least a small facet of a Jewish identity—past, present, and future—that I can hold in my hands. Let’s hold it in our hands together. Crush it in our palms. Let it linger. Then it will fade and become a song we can sing when we’re feeling nostalgic.”   

Casey Carsel‘s work will be activated by Jordan Davey-Emms on Wednesday 24 February at 1-3pm and 6-8pm; Thursday 25 February at 11am-1pm and 2-4pm.

Image: Casey Carsel, knobl—soup! (2020–2021), onionskin, avocado, and garlic-dyed cotton, ceramic, thread, garlic, wood, and steel, dimensions variable, Exhibition view Projects 2021, Auckland Art Fair, photo by Jordan Davey-Emms. Courtesy the artist.

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