Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sharing a Styrofoam cup of Iraqi tea

We have a label / category on this blog for posts about "people we'd like to invite to morning tea". For this particular post, it's less about who we'd like to invite to morning tea and more about who we'd like to share a Styrofoam cup of Iraqi tea with...

We wanted to share with you the Enemy Kitchen project's latest incarnation as part of Chicago's Smart Museum’s exhibition “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art”. According to Michael Rakowitz's website:
"Enemy Kitchen is an ongoing project begun by Michael Rakowitz in 2004. Collaborating with his Iraqi-Jewish mother, he compiles Baghdadi recipes and teaches them to different public audiences". 
The website lists all the project's many great ways of reaching people, including contact with American veterans of the Iraq War.  Veterans are playing a key note with Enemy Kitchen in 2012. Here's the story from Chicago's Time Out:
"The juxtaposition of veterans and Iraqi food—and the conversation that it could spark—is exactly what artist Michael Rakowitz was counting on when he began to assemble the players for the Enemy Kitchen food truck, which debuts as part of the Smart Museum’s upcoming show “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art,” but will roll on as an actual working food truck thereafter. 
"One of Rakowitz’s key players is Aaron Hughes, an artist and Iraq War vet. Hughes will work the typical service positions on Enemy Kitchen, but he’ll also conduct a performance titled “Tea,” in which each evening at sunset he’ll unfurl an Iraqi prayer rug, fire up a hot plate and begin the time-consuming double-boiler method of traditional Iraqi tea service. When he’s done, he’ll hand passersby cardamom-scented black tea in Styrofoam cups adorned with hand-doodled arabesque flowers. 
“In Guantanamo Bay, the only object detainees are allowed to have in their cell are Styrofoam cups for tea, so they draw all over them,” Hughes says. “They never write anything, they always just draw flowers.” Hughes was a soldier in the Illinois Army National Guard 1244th Transportation Company. He was stationed in Kuwait, and drove supply trucks in and out of Iraq daily. “We’d pull into these bases as the sun was setting, and the third-world nationals that are contracted to essentially be indentured servants to soldiers would roll out their prayer rugs, warm tea and offer it to us,” he remembers. “Every night, I would refuse.” 
“They were from Pakistan or Bangladesh or other third [world] countries and it was ingrained in us that these individuals—we called them hajis just as we did the Iraqis—could not be trusted,” Hughes continues. “Everything was racialized in war.” 
"Hughes returned to Chicago in 2006 and found a similar sentiment here, which prompted him to form the Chicago chapter of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. That same year, Rakowitz was leading a group of New York City high-school kids through an after-school program he dubbed Enemy Kitchen. In the utilitarian kitchen of Manhattan’s Hudson Community Guild Center, Rakowitz shared stories about his grandfather, who was exiled from Iraq in 1946; his mother, who lamented the lack of Iraqi restaurants in New York; and his grandmother, who still waxed poetic over their country’s prized dates. As he spoke, the students formed patties of ground lamb and bulgur for the Rakowitz family recipe for kubbe. Inevitably, talk turned to the war. 
“A few sessions in, this Puerto Rican girl came in and said ‘I’m sick and tired of making this food. This food is nasty and they blow up our soldiers every day and they knocked down the Twin Towers,’ ” Rakowitz recalls. “And then this one kid Hashim, whose family is from the Caribbean, says, ‘No, the Iraqis didn’t knock down the Twin Towers, it was bin Laden,’ while this other kid, whose family is from Mexico, goes, ‘It wasn’t bin Laden, it was our own government.’ So all of a sudden you have this snapshot of everything, from the misinformation out there and mainstream beliefs to conspiracy theory. I really loved them being able to express this, because I didn’t want to do Enemy Kitchen with an art audience standing around saying ‘Oh, I feel like you’…there’s no friction, no dialogue fueled by a certain sense of opposition.” 
"Now living in Chicago, teaching at Northwestern’s Department of Art Theory & Practice, Rakowitz has resurrected Enemy Kitchen as a repurposed ’60s-era ice-cream truck. And while that truck will be staffed by veterans of the Iraq War, the food will be cooked by Jawher Shaer and his two sons, who own and run Milo’s Pita Place in Rogers Park....
"[The] food truck dubbed Enemy Kitchen, serving exclusively Iraqi food and staffed by Iraq War veterans such as Hughes, Alejandro Villatoro, Ash Woolson, Greg Broseus and Crystal Colon, who are very publicly bringing issues to the table. “We were born in Iraq, we do Iraqi food, and we have a lot of respect for the veterans who fought there, so we are happy to be involved in this project, which we find very interesting,” Milad says. “For instance, Mike [Rakowitz] says Aaron [Hughes] makes great Iraqi tea and he will do this at the truck, which to us is surprising that he would have any interest. For us, tea is mandatory, in every house, after every meal. It is our custom. Now, to have an American soldier make us Iraqi tea? I’m dying to have some.”
We wish we were there to share some Iraqi tea, too :) Sadly, most Archive volunteer staff are too far away, but we do have Archive Friends in Chicago who we hope will take note of this post and visit both the exhibition and Enemy Kitchen.  Please, send us some photos!

The Smart Museum writes of “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art”:
"Since the 1930s, numerous artists have used the simple act of sharing food and drink to advance aesthetic goals and to foster critical engagement with the culture of their moment. These artist-orchestrated meals can offer a radical form of hospitality that punctures everyday experience, using the meal as a means to shift perceptions and spark encounters that aren't always possible in a fast-moving and segmented society. 
"Feast surveys this practice for the first time, presenting the work of more than thirty artists and artist groups who have transformed the shared meal into a compelling artistic medium. The exhibition examines the history of the artist-orchestrated meal, assessing its roots in early-twentieth century European avant-garde art, its development over the past decades within Western art, and its current global ubiquity. Through a presentation within the Smart Museum and new commissions in public spaces, the exhibition will introduce new artists and contextualize their work in relation to other influential artists, from the Italian Futurists and Gordon Matta-Clark to Marina Abramović and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Feast addresses the radical hospitality embodied by these artists and the social, commercial, and political structures that surround the experience of eating together."
The exhibition runs for another two weeks (it will tour in 2012 and 2014). According to Time Out:
"Enemy Kitchen will debut at 7pm on Wednesday 15 at the Smart Museum of Art (5550 S Greenwood Ave, 773-702-0200) as part of “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art.” Beyond that it will operate on Sundays and Mondays throughout Chicago. Check Twitter (@enemykitchen) for locations and times"
Want to know more?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Education Officer assignment: "professional dialogue + exchange of experience + knowledge" workshops

photo: Sofie Pedersen source
Here's an assignment for our education officers worldwide:

Design in Context is a:
"comprehensive initiative for the exchange of expertise and experience between Danish and Palestinian designers. The objective is to rethink Palestinian textile design and equip the local women so that they are able to develop products with a wider market appeal. The plan is for the Danish designers to visit Palestine up to four times each year to participate in workshops with local designers and handicraft workers"
The Fashion and Textile Institute (FTI):
"is the first educational institution in Palestine for textile and fashion design. The institute was founded in 1994 and offers a two-year education in fashion design. The FTI is located in Beit Sahour, on the outskirts of Bethlehem."
Designskolen is:
"an education and research institution at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK). The institute is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has existed for 135 years." 
All these things come together in Sofie Pedersen's interesting post / article in WomenDesign. This begins:

photo: Sofie Pedersen

Women’s lives told through the medium of embroidery
Author: Text and photo: Sofie Pedersen.  Published: 03-12-2012 
Personal stories are woven into Palestinian embroidery – stories that both challenge and surprise young Danish women. Expertise and information sharing were the buzzwords when students from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of design (Designskolen) and students from the Palestinian Fashion and Textile Institute first met with women from various handicraft cooperatives in Palestine.
“That cross-stitching is brimming with sex; all of the embroidery with red thread refers to menstruation. The local embroidery expert and designer Omar-Joseph Nasser-Khoury says shell-shaped patterns symbolise the woman’s vagina. Or ‘the woman’s reproductive organ’, as he puts when he’s within earshot of the Palestinian ladies,” explains a clearly impressed Maria Albertsen, project associate and designer from Designskolen in Denmark.
In partnership with the Palestinian designer Omar-Joseph Nasser-Khoury, she is responsible for the creative content of a series of workshops aimed at building bridges between Danish and Palestinian design, the goal of which is to provide mutual inspiration.

"The women of Palestine have a long and proud tradition of embroidery, but the work is time consuming and the pay is poor. Because of this, the challenge for the Danish designers has been to collaborate with their Palestinian colleagues and fellow artists in order to make embroidery relevant in a wider context with greater appeal, consequently giving the Palestinian women improved opportunities of earning money.    
"The exchange of ideas is being facilitated through the Danish NGO Det Danske Hus i Palæstina [The Danish House in Palestine]. The cornerstone of the project, which is called Design in Context, is professional dialogue and exchange of experience and knowledge between Danes and Palestinians. In addition to project associate Maria Albertsen, two students from Designskolen in Denmark are also participating – Tine Winther Rysgaard and Josefine Gilbert.  
"From Palestine, 12 students from the Fashion and Textile Institute at Beit Sahour are participating, along with 12 women from various handicraft cooperatives, organised under the Dalia Association. This is a Palestinian NGO that focuses on two key areas: “women supporting women” and “The Village Decides”, both of which focus on civil society and capacity accumulation.
"In the first workshop with the Palestinian women and the Danish designers, the group is given a detailed introduction to the symbolism of the embroideries embellishing the traditional Palestinian women’s dress. It is particularly surprising to the Danes how many stories are told through the cross-stitching on this traditional, loose-fitting garment that covers the entire body from the neck down to the ankles. These embroideries refer to genitalia, the woman’s menstrual cycle and encourage potential courters  (translation: Andrew Bell)
You can read the rest here.   This is a really great project. Kudos to all involved.  We look forward to learning more.

Now, for our education officers, here's your assignment:

Imagine that you, as an education officer of the Archive, have been asked to organize a similar series of workshops to promote "professional dialogue and exchange of experience and knowledge" between Palestinians and and textile designers from your current country of residence:
  • What cross cultural connections in your own environment / community might be brought together?  
  • What will you call your project?
  • Tell us what kind of budget your workshops requires. Then imagine you only receive half. What cuts are required? How would you work around them? Who else could you approach for funding?
  • How would you select your Palestinian participants? 
  • How would you structure your workshops? What topics would be covered in each? Who would participate?
  • After attending the first workshop Sofie Pedersen states in her article that "the Danes" attending the workshop now understand "traditional ... embroideries refer to genitalia, the woman’s menstrual cycle and encourage potential courters".  Is this singular conclusion one you would want your own non Palestinian workshop attendees to reach?  If not, explain in detail what conclusions you would prefer, and what components of pre1948 Palestinian costume and embroidery you'd hope attendees would take on board. 
  • Create a reading list on Palestinian costume for both your Palestinian and non Palestinian attendees.  Make sure you feature publications in languages familiar to your workshop attendees.
  • Danish student Tine Winter Rysgaard is quoted right at the end of the article "there’s still no doubting the fact that the Palestinian aesthetic is very different than ours". A similar situation may arise in your workshops. How would you try to redress aesthetic differences? More importantly, how would you define "the Palestinian aesthetic"?
  • The use of the sketchbook mentioned in the second part of the article proved a resourceful practical tool for both groups attending the workshops. What practical tools might you include?
Send your responses to us via the staff email account. We look forward to hearing what you all come up with :)