Michael Rakowitz made media headlines in December when U.S. marshals seized a critical part of his culinary project Spoils: the dinner plates. As it turned out, the elegant black and gold trimmed tableware, purchased on eBay, had been looted from the former palace of Saddam Hussein. Now repatriated, the artist has created a set of limited-edition paper plate replicas that accompanied the launch of his latest food endeavor, Enemy Kitchen (Food Truck), an Iraqi eatery on wheels.
Commissioned by the Smart Museum of Art for their exhibition Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, Rakowitz’s food truck is the newest iteration of his ongoing project Enemy Kitchen wherein he invites people to help him cook a meal based on the recipes of his Iraqi-Jewish mother. The conversation that takes place over the course of the event is perhaps more significant than the food that gets made. The artist notes, “On one occasion, a student walked in and said, ‘Why are we making this nasty food? They (the Iraqis) blow up our soldiers every day and they knocked down the Twin Towers.’ One student corrected her and said, ‘The Iraqis didn’t destroy the Twin Towers, bin Laden did.’ Another said, ‘It wasn’t bin Laden, it was our government.’”
With Enemy Kitchen (Food Truck) Rakowitz extends the possibility for dialogue and debate to the neighborhoods of Chicago. Every Sunday and Monday throughout Feast the artist and his rotating staff of local Iraqi cooks (who prepare the food) and Iraq War veterans (who act as sous chefs and servers) will be cruising the city in search of hungry customers. Following are excerpts from a recent interview with Rakowitz in which he discusses his goals and overall relationship to food.*
Nicole J. Caruth: What prompted you to make Enemy Kitchen mobile?
Michael Rakowitz: It was one of the extensions that had always existed in my mind after the variant that I started in New York and then produced in different places across the country. I thought about some of the things that had been so dynamic and exciting for me as it pertained to Return, which was another project I did with Creative Time, where I imported Iraqi dates and operated a storefront. What was really great about that was, for the few months that the project was up and running, it was an excellent hub where conversation could happen and also a place where New York’s really small Iraqi population could convene with some regularity. I really enjoyed that. It was where my interest in urban space and interventionism could intersect with my love of story telling and conversation.
Flash Points contributor and University of Riverside professor Jennifer Doyle is currently spending 2 weeks in India, traveling with the Indian artist Riyas Komu. Following is the third in a series of dispatches from the road. — Ed.
Iraq’s victory over Saudi Arabia in the 2007 Asia Cup final is likely to hold up as one the decade’s most significant wins. The team’s victory represented a complex distillation of resistance and anger. The torture and murder of Iraqi athletes is frequently cited in the litany of horrors suffered by the Iraqi people at the hands of Saddam Hussein (see this 2003 Sports Illustrated story). Responding to allegations of torture in the country’s soccer program, in 1997, FIFA investigated the architect of Iraq’s athletics program, Uday Hussein, but spoke only with his people and wrote a report exonerating the sadist. Interest in the plight of the country’s people has long been guided by questions of political expediency. These athletes know intimately what it is to have one’s body enlisted in the service of the state, and are wary at best about having their experiences drafted into discourse defending the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. On winning the cup, while a frantic official stood next to him shouting, “No Politics! No Politics,” captain Younis Mahmoud said, simply: “I want America out of Iraq now!”
Drawn to the team by the Asia Cup victory and the captain’s powerful statement, in 2007, Indian artist Riyas Komu went to watch one of Iraq’s World Cup qualifying matches. At the time, these matches were played in Dubai; this was the period during which the team had been forced into exile (they’ve only recently returned to play in Iraq, with an inaugural match played against another dislocated team, Palestine). Inspired by this experience, Komu made a series of works that elliptically but powerfully tap into the contradictions that swirl around the team, and around the body as an instrument of nationalism more broadly.