Conflict Kitchen was a finalist for the 2nd International Award for Public Art.

Located within the park surrounding the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Conflict Kitchen is both a restaurant and a socially engaged public art project that serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict.

The project, created by Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events and has included North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and Afghanistan.

Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is supplemented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the public’s engagement with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The first experiment was with Persian food, highlighting Iran.

To prepare, the artist team travels to the country of conflict with their chef, or as close to it as they can get. On a recent trip to South Korea, for example, they met with North Korean defectors, gathered interviews and recipes, and cooked in home kitchens.

Much of the food served through Conflict Kitchen is handheld street food. The wrapper that surrounds the food item contains quotes from interviews with people from that region and other information to expand the diners’ understanding of these countries.

Another means of social engagement is through Conflict Kitchen’s Wednesday dining experience, where people can join in a discussion and meal with a “human avatar,” a staff member who is connected via live feed to an individual from the current conflict country.

There are also group Skype meals where, for example, a group can gather in Pittsburgh and another in Iran for a collective meal that is connected by technology.

The work of Conflict Kitchen has continued to expand beyond the original storefront in East Liberty and the current kiosk in Schenley Plaza. The project is also mobile, hosting events such as The Lunch Hour (in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Honors College), where students can come for discussions and food focused on countries in crisis such as Ukraine and Egypt.

Conflict Kitchen has also developed an event called “The President’s Speech.” The first version was “The Cuban Speech,” for which Conflict Kitchen asked over 40 Cubans and Cuban Americans to write part of a speech that they would like President Barack Obama to deliver. An Obama impersonator was then hired to deliver the speech.

The current iteration of Conflict Kitchen serves Palestinian food.

Cameron Cartiere is the dean of Graduate Studies at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Featured in Public Art Review #46.