Learn about the provocative designers who could be the next Nobel Peace Prize laureates at the Cooper Hewitt Museum

Joe Biden is unlikely to have dinner with Kim Jong-un anytime soon. If he did, he might appreciate naengmyeon with one side of oh muchim. If Biden were to sit down with Ebrahim Raisi of Iran on the other side, they could share a plate of khoresht-e hulu. A meal with Nicolás Maduro from Venezuela? Chivo al coco con mofongo may be on the menu.

Over a seven-year period beginning in 2010, Pittsburgh residents were able to sample all of these delicacies at a take-out restaurant known as Conflict Kitchen. The principle was incredibly simple: seven days a week, the owners served traditional dishes from nation states in conflict with the United States. From Palestine to Cuba via Afghanistan, they rotated the menus according to the news. For most of the kitchens on offer, Conflict Kitchen was the only drive-in option.

Although Conflict Kitchen is no longer open – and Pittsburgh is no longer a destination of choice for chivo al coco — remnants of the artist-run restaurant are now on display at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The Cooper Hewitt chose the restaurant to illustrate the contemporary engagement of artists and designers in the face of the geopolitical challenge of finding common ground. One of many examples included in design peaceit is distinguished by its appetizing frankness.

Given the peace design theme, the peace sign might be the first image that comes to mind. Designed by artist Gerald Holtom in 1958, the emblem was originally a logo for Britain’s campaign for nuclear disarmament, drawing inspiration from the positions of the semaphore flag for the letters N and D. Because nuclear disarmament has Dominated the peace movement in the 1960s, and most pacifists were unaware of the semaphore, the symbol circulated everywhere, achieving universal recognition while becoming increasingly nebulous in its meaning.

Today, the symbol is ubiquitous and stylistic permutations abound, including a new one included in the Cooper Hewitt exhibit. However, the impact is less profound than announced. It’s generic enough that people with radically different worldviews wear it on a t-shirt or stick it on a bumper. In this respect, it is unifying. But the sense of brotherhood is superficial. Unless people confront their differences of opinion and resolve them intentionally, the root causes of conflict escalate, ready to sow heartache in times of stress when cooperation is most needed.

One of the most interesting projects for the Cooper Hewitt to consider came about a decade after Holtom drew the first peace sign, when anthropologist Margaret Mead teamed up with graphic designer Rudolf Modley to create a “sign system visuals with universally recognizable referents”. . Like Holtom, Mead was driven by nuclear proliferation and the threat of annihilation, which she believed was exacerbated by “social and economic fragmentation” stemming from fractured lines of communication. After appealing to the United Nations for a “new shared culture”, she hired Modley to help create the means for cultural exchange with a new set of glyphs.

The challenge quickly imposed itself. Mead was convinced that “there are no universal symbols” and that the system should be invented with careful attention to cultural assumptions. (A crossed fork and knife wouldn’t act as a global symbol of food in a world where billions of people use chopsticks.) What began as a pragmatic effort to help people communicate using images has become an introverted inquiry into semiotics. Even a satisfactory glyph for radioactivity could not be identified (although many candidates were found to be insufficient). The intentionality with which Mead and Modley worked was the opposite of the arbitrary route by which the peace sign achieved universality, but the effect was equivalent: neither resulted in the kind of communication required. for a new shared culture. Nuclear proliferation remains an existential risk. We’re still talking.

Designers and architects have found more success designing experiences. For example, the Cooper Hewitt includes rocking wall, an ingenious intervention along the US-Mexico border designed by architecture studio Rael San Fratello. On July 28, 2019, the company worked with Colective Chopeke to place beams between the steel bars of the wall separating New Mexico and Chihuahua, resulting in an improvised row of oversized seesaws. Children on both sides immediately started playing with each other in full view of the world, thanks to global media coverage. Children didn’t need glyphs. The spectators did not need a common language.

The wall did not fall that day. Animosity between the two nations remains, exacerbated by racial prejudice and nativist demagoguery. US immigration policy remains punitive and cruel, essentially the same as under the previous administration. Yet the unforgettable images upend right-wing rhetoric about drug trafficking and “bad man” violence, instead inspiring a dialogue about the future as shared territory.

Like the game, and unlike glyphs, eating is universal, a common experience for all. The concept of Conflict Kitchen works the same way as rocking wall, but there are also important differences. Beyond the fact that Conflict Kitchen has operated over a longer period, involving more people, the restaurant has also integrated universality into a complex relationship with diversity.

In today’s atmosphere of xenophobia, it’s good to remember that everyone has the same basic needs, including food and shelter, whether they’re American, Iranian or North Korean. It is one of the foundations of respect, a necessary condition for peaceful coexistence. However, it is equally essential to appreciate other cultures and help them flourish on their own terms.

Although the flavors and textures of khoresht-e hulu are not all there is to Persian heritage, a traditional dish is a synecdoche for the culture. The ingredients reflect the regional landscape and climate. Tastes are a common language. The way a food is served and the gestures required to eat it are important elements of social interaction. A traditional dish is not only a synecdoche, but also a gestalt.

Most people in Pittsburgh were unaware of all the levels a Tehran native would live with khoresht-e hulu. Many people in Tehran may be unaware of some layers of meaning in their own food. The subtleties are not as important as the overall impression, experience and receptivity to it. In each appetizing dish, Conflict Kitchen has served the ingredients for peaceful coexistence.

About Thomas Brown

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