A Food Truck Serves Discussion of the Iraq War

Artist Michael Rakowitz channels both our frivolous obsession with food trucks and the heavy political residue of the Iraq War with the latest iteration of his Enemy Kitchen project, a food truck selling Iraqi cuisine. This mobile version of Enemy Kitchen is the result of Rakowitz’s collaboration with Iraqi chefs from Chicago and will be staffed by American veterans of the Iraq War. Launched on February 15 as part of the Smart Museum of Art’s Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, Enemy Kitchen travels throughout Chicago until June 10.

In a manner reminiscent of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work—cooking free food for gallery visitors in the ‘90s and recreating this experience many times since—Rakowitz’s objective is to use food to initiate conversations, especially conversations pertaining to the Iraq War and the conflicts, stereotypes, violence, and myths it embodies. He began this project in 2004, initially working with middle- and high-school students at the Hudson Guild Community Center to make Iraqi dishes. Rakowitz described this as a social sculpture, an environment for students to reflect on Iraq in a context removed from media portrayals of current events.

An incident involving Saddam Hussein’s china plates has made Rakowitz’s work even more politically charged within the US-Iraq crosscurrent. In October and November 2011, Rakowitz collaborated with Creative Time on Spoils, a culinary art project at Park Avenue Autumn. Although the artist claimed that the project was concerned with the “dispersal of power” symbolized by Saddam Hussein’s plates, the Iraqi mission to the United Nations quickly suggested that those plates were, in fact, the cultural property of Iraq. Creative Time acquired the china on eBay, leading to suspicions that they were a few of the numerous cultural artifacts taken by looters during the war. The plates were eventually reclaimed by the State Department and returned to the Iraqi government. Rakowitz now uses paper reproductions of Hussein’s plates in Enemy Kitchen.

Rakowitz transforms food and dialogue—even dialogue between the vilified powers that be—into artistic media for cross-cultural exchange and understanding, and the latest manifestation of Enemy Kitchen seeks to do the same over shish kebab and stews.

Enemy Kitchen is traveling around Chicago from February 15 to June 10 (times and locations are available on their Twitter).