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Dinner talk: artist bridges culture divides with Dubai pop-up restaurant

Michael Rakowitz serving Iraqi cuisine from his Enemy Kitchen food truck in Chicago

The artist Michael Rakowitz is back in action, working to bridge culture divides through the universal language of food. Following his popular Enemy Kitchen food truck, which roamed the streets of Chicago last year and was staffed by Iraqi cooks and American veterns, Rakowitz has opened a pop-up restaurant in Dubai that he hopes will spark conversations about culture, running for just one week until 7 May.

Commissioned by the Moving Museum as part of its show “Tectonic”, the work’s title Dar Al Sulh translates as “Domain of Conciliation” and is the Arabic term for a non-Muslim territory protected by a treaty. For the menu, Rakowitz is using his Iraqi Jewish grandmother’s recipes, including many foods no longer found in Iraq. “It will be the first such ‘restaurant’ in the Arab World to serve the cuisine of Iraqi Jews since their exodus, which began in the 1940s, serving the food on plates and trays that originally belonged to members of this ancient community and which survived the departure of their homeland,” the press release says.

“Jews were once Arabs, too,” Rakowitz says. “Their exodus from Arab lands is one that has been propagandised and mythologised by Israel, by the flawed narrative of Zionism, and by other entities in order to bolster specific cultural and political positions. Dar Al Sulh seeks to be a time machine, to reactivate a space when there was harmony, when Jews had not yet abandoned their Arab selves, before Jewish populations in the Arab world were assumed to be complicit with Zionism. The notion of conciliation is the central philosophy of Dar Al Sulh, meant to be reflected in the food and the conversations spoken around it.”

Each meal will follow the theme of that night’s conversation, and the independent curator Regine Basha is providing a little dining music with Tuning Baghdad, a soundtrack pulled from archival video footage and audio clips documenting Baghdad’s Jewish music scene from the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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