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Dining in Refugee Camps: A Cookbook Goes Live at dOCUMENTA 13

This past year, New York-based artist Robin Kahn participated in dOCUMENTA 13 presenting “The Art of Sahrawi Cooking”, a collaboration with La Cooperativa Nacional Unidad de Mujeres  Saharauis  (The United Cooperatives of  Western Saharan Women).

 

Dining in Refugee Camps installation at Documenta 13

As noted by Roger Denson in a recent piece on Huffington Post, From Dining in Refugee Camps to dOCUMENTA 13: The Art of Seeking Sahrawi Independence:

There are few recurring global exhibitions of contemporary art more renown, prestigious and selective than dOCUMENTA, held every five years in Kassal Germany. Which is what makes it so very remarkable that one of the highlights of last year’s dOCUMENTA 13 was the inclusion of a refugee encampment made by what are arguably among the least known people on the face of the earth–the Sahrawi of North Africa.

As Robin explains,

My journey started in 2009 when I participated in ARTifariti, an “art and human rights” festival that takes place in the Tindouf Refugee Camps in Algeria, where two thirds of the population of Western Sahara have been living in exile since 1975.

Her discovery about this refugee civilization astounded her:

When I went to the camps and I had this experience that was like nothing I’ve ever had before. It’s a completely matriarchal society there. The women built everything–all of the infrastructure: the buildings, an educational system where there is 99% literacy. They wrote a constitution-in-exile in 1976 guaranteeing women’s equal rights, and this is in a Muslim country! So, what we as Americans think of Muslim women was completely turned on its head for me. What I experienced was a truly cooperative society, even though it is a society-in-exile. The women work in a way that is really interesting.  They have formed cooperatives to organize and oversee all aspects of the educational, cultural, political and family life in the camps.   Each cooperative has a distinct role to play that can only work in relationship to how it is serviced by and how it services the people at the same time.When I went to the camps and I had this experience that was like nothing I’ve ever had before. It’s a completely matriarchal society there. The women built everything–all of the infrastructure: the buildings, an educational system where there is 99% literacy. They wrote a constitution-in-exile in 1976 guaranteeing women’s equal rights, and this is in a Muslim country! So, what we as Americans think of Muslim women was completely turned on its head for me. What I experienced was a truly cooperative society, even though it is a society-in-exile. The women work in a way that is really interesting.  They have formed cooperatives to organize and oversee all aspects of the educational, cultural, political and family life in the camps.   Each cooperative has a distinct role to play that can only work in relationship to how it is serviced by and how it services the people at the same time.-Robin Kahn in MOMMY interview.

At dOCUMENTA 13, the installation and series of surrounding events was inspired by the publication of Dining in Refugee Camps: The Art of Sahrawi Cooking .  During “The Couscous Event”,  the public was invited inside a typical family tent to share a bowl couscous, mint tea and a conversation with women from Western Sahara about their lives.

This project engaged all of its participants in an interchange of mutual discovery and understanding. In harmony with the collective spirit of artistic collaboration, it embodied the idea that “if there is nothing except reality and art, the mere statement of that fact discloses the significance of art.” (Wallace Stevens, Materia Poetica , 1945).–Robin Kahn




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