From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a profile of artist Dawn Weleski and her project Conflict Kitchen. Author Matthew Harrison Tedford notes, “…the sorry state of public knowledge about foreign cultures makes even a brief, thoughtful conversation between cashier and customer a monumental achievement…” This article was originally published on May 7, 2014.
A recent poll of Americans asked a variety of foreign-policy questions regarding the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine. Pollsters also asked respondents to pinpoint Ukraine on a high-resolution world map. Only 16% correctly completed this task—but more interestingly, the researchers found that the more incorrect a person’s guess, the more likely he or she was to want the United States to intervene militarily. And many respondents were very, very far off, suggesting that Ukraine was in Greenland, Florida, Alaska, New Zealand, Madagascar, all over Brazil, and, confusingly, several random locations in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.
These hawkish voices, guided by ignorance and misinformation, are often the loudest ones, calling for shock and awe when tensions flare around the globe. Dawn Weleski, a recent Stanford University MFA graduate and a 2013–2014 Headlands Center for the Arts Graduate Fellow, aims directly at this destructive connection between ignorance and hostility with her social art project Conflict Kitchen.
Developed with fellow artist Jon Rubin, Conflict Kitchen is a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Pittsburgh that opened in 2010. The restaurant serves food only from countries with which the U.S. is in conflict, militarily or diplomatically. The current menu, focusing on Afghanistan, where the U.S. is waging the longest war in its history, offers slow-cooked lamb, kebabs, potato-leek stuffed turnovers, and a lemon-rosewater basil seed drink. Previous incarnations of the restaurant served food from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. Every several months, the restaurant closes down and then reopens with a new menu, name, and facade.