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Artist Michael Rakowitz Pays Tribute to His Mother’s Baghdadi Recipes

Enemy Kitchen makes Iraqi culture visible in the US beyond war, producing an alternative discourse and social space.’

The staff of Enemy Kitchen. Courtesy: Michael Rakowitz

My homage is in tribute to my mother, who in 1991 began teaching me recipes from my Iraqi grandparents to undo the dehumanization caused by the Gulf War that year. She has been, and continues to be, the most profound influence on my practice. In January 1991, I witnessed Iraq in real time for the first time, via CNN’s green-tinted images – night-vision. Buildings I would never get to visit were being blown up by American bombs. Suddenly, as I watched all of this unfold at the dinner table, I realized that the place my Iraqi Jewish grandparents fled to was destroying the place they fled from. I felt bifurcated, shattered. My mother saw how this was affecting me, and got my brothers’ and my attention. ‘Do you know there are no Iraqi restaurants in New York?’ she said. Later, I understood what she meant: that Iraq was not visible in this country beyond oil and war. That moment would serve as a primal scene that inspired my work Enemy Kitchen (2006–ongoing), as the drum once again began to beat toward war with Iraq in 2003. Together with my mother, I teach Baghdadi recipes to audiences, many of whom have relatives serving in Iraq, but few outlets to discuss the war. Since 2012, this has included a food truck that serves Baghdadi cuisine. Enemy Kitchen makes Iraqi culture visible in the US beyond war, producing an alternative discourse and social space.

Kubba recipe. Courtesy: Michael Rakowitz

Kubba Bamia recipe. Courtesy: Michael Rakowitz

Michael Rakowitz is an artist based in Chicago, USA. His commission for the fourth plinth, London, UK, was unveiled in March 2018.

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019
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