Tongue Twisting Dinners, Session 4:
resistance at boiling point
@ an other world
Our last Tongue Twisting Dinner brought together voices from Iran, Lebanon, Armenia and Turkey. This region, also referred to as S.W.A.N.A., continues to be affected by entangled geo-politics, oil trade, religious dogma and wars on territorial integrity. Each of our guests deals with the history of the region to position their practice in the current political climate. However, many artists, researchers and historians who raise their voice to address ongoing injustices and criticise hegemonic powers, are often silenced and therefore have to create alternative methodologies and forms of resistance. Diana Al-Halabi’s research unfolds through various mediums and brings in different histories of the region. Veronika Babayan transfers women’s generational knowledge through her artistic practice that deals with antagonistic histories. Whereas JINA Collective is a feminist leftist activist group and community that emerged from the Woman, Life, Freedom Revolution in Iran.
About the guests:
Diana Al-Halabi’s current research "Famine and Hunger strike: Decolonizing the Digestive" constitutes two sides of the same coin. Famine and hunger strikes render the digestive system another political site of struggle. While famines are a top-down force often engineered by governments to subordinate their people, hunger strikes are a bottom-up form of individual resistance often undertaken by political prisoners as a last resort for claiming their rights.
Veronika Babayan readapts early feminist practices of preservation in relation to the concepts of collective memory, intergenerational trauma and diasporic identity. A large part of her work revolves around fruit leather making - a recipe through which stories of deracination, migration and survival of the Armenian women have been passed on intergenerationally and transnationally. In this light, Babayan is instrumentalizing the recipe into a collective political subjectivity, a mnemonic device, and a transmission mechanism of oral histories. In doing so, her work depicts the brutal and visceral characteristics of seemingly fragile materials that represent both nurturance and resistance.
JINA collective started to form in 2022 in solidarity with, and alongside marginalised communities, and agents of the current unfolding revolution in Iran. They persevere to eradicate any form of tyranny, repression, and domination situated inside the borders of Iran, as well as in the broader region, and beyond.
The menu departed from the recipe letters of Mücella Yapıcı and Çiğden Mater, political prisoners in Turkey. These two women take on women’s prison survival skills for cooking and reheating their meals. The knowledge that circulates around different prisons in Turkey forms an alliance among prisoners as well as forming resistance by holding on to an essential human pleasure: taste. Yapıcı cooks elaborate traditional Turkish recipes with an electric water kettle and the limited means available in prison, whereas Mater shares these ingenious recipes through letters to her friends.
Graphic Design Studio Lieneman
Photos courtesy Sophie Bates
Tongue Twisting Dinners is supported by CBK Rotterdam and Gemeente Rotterdam
Tongue Twisting Dinners, Session 4:
resistance at boiling point | DIGEST
Transcript of post dinner mail-out:
On Sunday, 30th June, we gathered at an other world for our fourth and final Tongue Twisting Dinner of the current series. For the session we brought together voices from Iran, Lebanon, Armenia and Turkey. This region, also referred to as S.W.A.N.A., continues to be affected by entangled geo-politics, oil trade, religious dogma and wars on territorial integrity. Each of our guests deals with the history of the region to position their practice in the current political climate. However, many artists, researchers and historians who raise their voice to address ongoing injustices and criticise hegemonic powers, are often silenced and therefore have to create alternative methodologies and forms of resistance. Diana Al-Halabi’s research unfolds through various mediums and brings in different histories of the region. Veronika Babayan transfers women’s generational knowledge through her artistic practice that deals with antagonistic histories. Whereas JINA Collective is a feminist leftist activist group and community that emerged from the Woman, Life, Freedom Revolution in Iran.
The menu departed from the recipe letters of Mücella Yapıcı and Çiğdem Mater, political prisoners in Turkey. These two women take on women’s prison survival skills for cooking and reheating their meals. The knowledge that circulates around different prisons in Turkey forms an alliance among prisoners as well as forming resistance by holding on to an essential human pleasure: taste. Yapıcı cooks elaborate traditional Turkish recipes with an electric water kettle and the limited means available in prison, whereas Mater shares these ingenious recipes through letters to her friends.
The following mailout is an interpretive document of the dinner to be used as a guide to the discussion throughout the series. It is not intended to give a full picture of the conversation but to mark points in the discussion that felt important and possible avenues of enquiry and touchstones for our further sessions and beyond. It has been compiled from the generous contributions of the participants of the dinner.
Mercimek Köfte wrapped in lettuce with pomegranate sauce topping
Ayran aşı Soup / Cold Yayla Soup > Cold wheat and chickpea in yoghurt base soup with fresh dill and topping of spring onions. A traditional cold soup for seasonal workers in Turkey farming in the high heat.
Watermelon with feta cheese
Fruit leather aka ‘pestil’ made by Veronika Babayan in the form of words and sentences in Armenian and Arabic scripts.
Useful links and resources:
Famine and Hunger strike: Decolonizing the Digestive. Diana Al Halabi, 2022-2023.
The disaster cannot be contained. Diana Al Halabi, 2022.
Realms of Post Memory. Veronika Babayan, 2021.
Replica. Katayoun Barzegar, 2022. https://katayoonbarzegar.hotglue.me/?REPLICA
The mighty kettle. Çiğdem Mater, 2022.
The Revolt in Iran Is Rallying Its Diverse Working Class, Niloufar Nematollahi, 2023.
Food for thought
We named these sessions Tongue Twisting Dinners as we wanted to address topics that are difficult to speak about. This session felt particularly difficult to broach. There was a need for precision in the subjects, people and places we talked about but also a generosity in listening to each other while speaking from a wide variety of individual experiences and cultural backgrounds.
To begin the dinner, we discussed our collective position speaking from the “bubble” of the Netherlands. We asked ourselves, how is it possible to speak from a distance – as diaspora or observers of the S.W.A.N.A. region – about issues and events that are happening there. How can we also engage in these issues without becoming depressed or feeling hopeless? The dinner in itself was an attempt to create a space of solidarity and resistance by coming together to collectively discuss these urgencies.
We asked the audience the question, ‘What is a private form of resistance in your daily life?’. Many answers involved claiming space for rest, spending time with friends and cooking. One personal resistance was to pass on the cultures you embody to your children, so they can also carry them throughout their lives. Another personal resistance was to question institutional acceptance.
Cooking came up as a common resistance. However, it was noted that a previous generation of feminists chose not to cook as a form of resistance to patriarchy. In contrast, the current generation approaches cooking as a way to claim space and time, connect to cultural heritage and have more awareness of where their food comes from.
We discussed the struggle of choosing the menu, particularly, how to avoid imitating the suffering of Mücella, Ciğdem and their fellow prisoners for entertainment. We also wanted to be conscientious of the topics of hunger strikes and violence. Many of the prison recipes focused on how to reheat food to give simple pleasure and sustenance. To acknowledge this we only prepared cold dishes.
We asked the guests to discuss their struggles and doubts when implementing their research of the region in their art practice or activism. A particular struggle was how to remain connected when living at a distance or as diaspora. How to avoid looking from a bird’s eye view especially when working from the Netherlands. Despite seeming to be physically far from us, these struggles can actually be incredibly close, especially if we become aware of how they are held in our body.
One struggle was being forced to translate or explain something for a European audience that would be common knowledge for inhabitants or diaspora from the S.W.A.N.A. region. People felt that this continual act prohibited them from engaging on a deeper level with their research and the people involved. The table agreed that there was a lot of oppression in this forced translation.
A common concern for artists and activists was appropriating another person’s or community’s struggle and suffering. However, many people do not possess the tools or have the strength or capacity to make their concerns public. Artists and activists can then play a useful role in mediating these causes to a wider public.
We discussed how to transform a struggle without just mimicking it. We talked of nazri, a tradition where a dish is made by one person to be shared with the whole community. This is typically done by women as a form of wish making, one common wish being to find a husband. As a way of reclaiming this tradition, JINA collective made a dish where they wrote the words ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi’ (Women, Life, Freedom), in Persian script using cinnamon powder.
We often talk about how the personal is political. One approach was to think of how the political moves towards the personal as a way to connect to these struggles. In other words, how to go from socio-political research to the person researching it.
During the making of Diana’s film, ‘The Disaster Cannot Be Contained’ made following the Beirut Port Blast of 2021, Diana often asked herself, ‘Who am I to tell this story’. However, there is no singular experience of a disaster on this scale. She found one method of approaching this is to work together with the community that experienced struggles or disasters first hand.
We discussed how history is often obscured in state education. Throughout history this has been used to systematically divide nation states so solidarity cannot form around the collective struggles of neighbouring countries. This was often introduced by European policy makers who made political decisions on the governance of countries included in the S.W.A.N.A region.
An example of this is the denial of the Armenian Genocide in the history teaching of Turkey. Despite the fact that Ottoman history is glorified in Turkey, there is no mention of the genocide within education and most archives on this history are not accessible to the public. This means that this history is unreachable through archival material. What are the alternative methods to reach personal narratives?
One example is through Veronika’s research. Due to the scarcity of women’s accounts regarding the Armenian genocide it is necessary to rely on an intergenerational exchange of knowledge, where the stories of a few voices retain the collective memory.
Tragedy in phrases of endearment
For the dessert Veronika made a collection of words and phrases in Armenian and Arabic from fruit leather. In discussion with Diana, she had noticed that many words of endearment in these language contain synonyms of death, tragedy and violence. There is an internalisation of suffering within the language, however these become used in everyday phrases of affection, support and care.
Մեռնեմ ջանիդ [Mernem djaneet] - I'll die for your body
Մեռնեմ հոգուդ [mernem hogoud] - I'll die for your soul
Ցավդ տանեմ [tsav'd tanem] - I'll take your pain
Կին [kin or gin] - woman
Ղուրբան / Ղուրբան լինեմ [ghurban / ghurban linem] - Sacrifice / I'll be the sacrifice
Կարոտ [karot] - the feeling of missing as a noun. Similar to saudade in Portuguese.
Ջwիգյար [djeegyar] - liver (same in Armenian, Farsi and Turkish. A common phrase is ‘I will be your liver’)
تقبر قلبي [tokbor qalbi] - May you burry my heart
Veronika chooses to use fruit leather in her practice as a form of tacit and intergenerational knowledge sharing particularly exchanged by women. A reason for using fruit leather is that it exists across the region but is not claimable by a particular culture, each culture having their own variations on the same method.