The Taste of Displacement (2014) is a video project and an experimental performance piece that brings together a diverse group of transnational and diasporic Iraqis from various personal and professional backgrounds (including the arts, activism, academia, journalism, and gastronomy) 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 eating prove to be contested markers of collective memory, identity, politics, and socio-economics.

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, and diet. Culinary, conceptual and aesthetic deliberations are part and parcel of the development of the ongoing project.

The project is informed by 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.

Dena Al-Adeeb, The Taste of Displacement, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.


I invited several Iraqis and those of Iraqi heritage, who’s creative practices tackle Iraq, to cook and share a meal together. I employed communal food making as a creative process and practice, as well as eating as a performative act, that bridges the gap between those of diverse backgrounds. I wanted to bring to the table questions related to collective memory, trauma, violence, and creative practices that engage with Iraq’s past, present and future. I initially sought out to explicitly interrogate the participants’ relationship to the Iran-Iraq War, First and Second Gulf Wars, including the US invasion and occupation, as well as the continued violent interventions in Iraq. I also planned to pursue the participants’ displacement narratives and their relationship to making sense of living in the belly of the beast. I had initial conversations with the participants via phone about the project and I had planned on meeting collectively before the performance to discuss the details further. The night of the performance, I decided not to engage the participants in a collective conversation regarding the content of the project but rather keep it open and fluid. I wanted the conversations to transpire more organically, initiated by each of the participants. The engagement proved to be more subtle and nuanced.

I am invested in developing a creative community as well as building long-term relationships that are committed to working collaboratively.  I am interested in exploring and learning from other creative practitioners to develop ideas through dialogue as well as finding new approaches and practices for working collaboratively. I find participatory practices that are socially and politically engaged to be de-alienating, playful and humanizing.

The negotiating process with the curator and gallery revealed an interest in inviting an audience to be a part of the performance. I was hesitant about including an audience for many reasons, including questions related to the Gaze and Insider/Outsider, but after much deliberation, I decided to be open to experimentation.

Dena Al-Adeeb, The Taste of Displacement, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Dena Al-Adeeb, The Taste of Displacement, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

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This post was written by Dena Al-Adeeb.

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