Diakhute & Pimento Riojano

Leone Contini and Marta Fernandez Calvo research plants that are tied to Italian and Spanish colonial histories and explore the way plants are adopted, cultivated and celebrated in very particular regions as part of  local and national plant imaginaries. 

Leone Contini, Diakhute, or merlingiana a pummadora (Solanum eethiopicum)

Ibrahim, from northern Senegal and also from here, on the banks of the Piave river, created a small garden of kandja [okra] and bissap [karkadè], as well as Senegalese pumpkins, watermelons and diakhute, a type of African aubergine, with a similar appearance to a tomato, whose colour changes from pale yellow to orange when ripe (or overripe).

A similar variant of this vegetable has already been cultivated for a long time in Italy, on the border between Basilicata and Campania, starting from seeds imported from veterans/settlers/occupiers of the colonial wars in East Africa.

Since 2007 the plant has even become a slow food presidium, under the name of “the Rotonda [the name of a town] red aubergine” (while the local denomination is “merlingiana a pummadora”, in the local dialect, meaning “the tomato-like aubergine”).

Despite the two aubergines being genetically very similar, the narratives around them differ. While the aubergine appropriated during a military war campaign is now praised and implemented as part of the Italian food heritage, the one that is cultivated out of seeds that arrived in Italy inside Ibra’s pocket is perceived as a foreign body, a potential threat to the integrity of the Italian territory, intended both in terms of landscape and soil (“terra” in Italian language means soil).

Marta Fernandez Calvo, Pimiento Riojano

I started this project choosing the tomato plant and have recently changed to a pepper plant. More specifically I have chosen a variety called Najerano pepper, also known as ​​Pimiento Riojano, a variety that grows in La Rioja (Spain) where I am from. 

I started this project choosing the tomato plant and have recently changed to a pepper plant. More specifically I have chosen a variety called Najerano pepper, also known as ​​Pimiento Riojano, a variety that grows in La Rioja (Spain) where I am from. 

I’ve chosen it for many reasons. First of all because of the strong memories of farmers coming to the surroundings of the neighborhood where I grew up in the small city of Logroño (La Rioja). Every farmer would make a mountain with their pepper harvest and stands beside it, day by day, until everything was sold. It was a cluster of red pepper mountains the size of a football pitch. It ran from September to the end of November and we would go, with my mum and aunties, mountain by mountain, asking the prices from each farmer to make our “conserva” for the year.

After a recent conversation with Maddy in my kitchen in Madrid I understood how the pepper plant has been traveling back and forth in my practice over the last few years, especially in projects such as Casa de Comidas (Delfina Foundation, London 2019 and Planta Baja, Madrid 2023) and I Turn Bad Things Away (with Ruta del Castor, Mexico 2021). So I will follow its traces through my own practice and personal histories to revisit the technologies, territories, practices and relations (human and non-human) that this plant has made visible.