The Taste of Displacement (2014) is a video, participatory performance, and socially engaged art project that brings together a diverse group of transnational and diasporic Iraqis from various personal and professional backgrounds for a shared meal. The participants were asked to provide a personally meaningful Iraqi recipe, which was prepared and served communally. The performative acts of food making, recipe sharing and communal eating prove to be contested markers of collective memory, remembrances, cultural heritage, and hospitality. Culinary, conceptual and aesthetic deliberations are part and parcel of the development of the ongoing project.
The artist-choreographed banquet offers a collaborative creative process with critical engagement amongst the participants. Stories and memories transpire, revealing the similarities and divergences in personal and collective narratives and experiences of war, displacement, and remembrance. The encounter portrays a complex and diverse web of socio-political histories that manifest through the congregation, outside of their homelands, and can only take place in the diaspora. The project aims to gastronomically explore various intersections, including those of memory, trauma, dislocation, hospitality and diet.
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The project was inspired by my mother who has carried with her a hand-written recipe book of Iraqi dishes, first from Baghdad to Kuwait (1980), and then from Kuwait to California (1991). Our home, like many Iraqi homes, conversations about politics, food, and community take place during collective cooking and meal sharing. People from the community are invited over regularly to share extravagant feasts partly as a performance of hospitality, generosity, and collectivity.
The upcoming cookbook project will include my mother’s recipes as well as texts and histories as diverse as Ibn Sayyar Al-Waraq’s tenth-century Baghdadi cookbook, al-Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes), recipes from the Arabian Nights, Ashurnasirpal II’s brick-inscribed banquet menu, near the doorway to his palace, and Zirayb’s revolutionizing the culinary arts of medieval Arab Spain by taking charge of the kitchens of the Cordoba courts.
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