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Witt Visiting Artist Tunde Wey Discusses Equity, Race, and Privilege through Food

Witt Visiting Artist Tunde Wey Discusses Equity, Race, and Privilege through Food

In late April 2018, the Stamps School of Art & Design will host Witt Visiting Artist Tunde Wey.

Recently, the Nigerian-born chef and writer has received national press for Saartj, his lunch counter in New Orleans where white patrons were requested to pay $30 per plate and people of color were charged $12 per plate. Participants of color could “opt-in” to receive the profit redistribution. The project was a way to explore and call attention to racial wealth disparity. Data collected during the project revealed the power of social pressure to re-frame conversations about equity and race.

In a recent interview with GQ Magazine, Wey stated: "Food spaces embody the sort of structural inequalities that exist in the larger community and they also contribute to those inequities as well, so it’s incumbent on folks, on all of us, to address the injustices that we see in all the spaces that they exist."

Rebekah Modrak, Associate Professor at the Stamps School, is hosting Wey for his Ann Arbor visit, co-sponsored by Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, College of Literature, Science and the Arts, U-M's Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs, Institute for the Humanities, Ann Arbor District Library, Argus Farm Stop, The Jefferson Market, Zingerman's, and Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original.

“My connection with Tunde came from a mutual interest in revealing how consumptive acts are complicit in larger systems of racism and gentrification,” Modrak said. “I reached out to him after launching Rethink Shinola and reading his article in CityLab about food and gentrification. We started talking about doing something together. But the community involvement of this project is new for me, as is the food. So while I'm a co-instigator who's doing the groundwork for all the Ann Arbor events, I understand my role as being in a position of learning.”

While this is Wey’s first project with the University of Michigan, he is no stranger to the region. Wey came Detroit to study at 16 years old and went on to co-own Hamtramck's Revolver, the permanent pop-up space featuring rotating guest chefs. He is now based in New Orleans.

On Friday, April 20, Professor Modrak will moderate a conversation with Tunde about his work as a chef, his decision to use food as provocation, the possibility of transforming consumptive acts through dinners and pop-up restaurants, discriminatory development, racial wealth disparity, and the importance of self-determination in affecting the outcomes of your life and community at the Ann Arbor District Library (343 S. Fifth Ave.) from 7 - 9 pm.

Wey's campus visit continues the next week, when he'll create a public dinnertime food truck dining experience Tuesday, April 24 and Wednesday April 25 at the U-M Ginsberg Center at the corner of E. University and Hill Streets in Ann Arbor. The food truck will appear at Argus Farm Stop (325 W. Liberty Rd, Ann Arbor) on Thursday, April 26 and Friday, April 27. Hours of operation are from 5-8 pm. These dining spaces will aim to use food as a way to explore the ways in which racial disparities, equity, and privilege play out locally.

As part of his research and engagement in Ann Arbor, Wey will serve as chef and moderator at a private dinner organized by the Community Action Network for staff and residents of three Ann Arbor housing communities: Green-Baxter Court, Bryant Community, and Hikone.

There will also be a dinner hosted at Jefferson Market to bring together members of the University of Michigan with local community members, all concerned with equity related to education, transportation, and housing. Community members will consist of planning members of the African American Downtown Festival, the Peace Neighborhood Center, a City Councilman, and others. University participants come from the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Black Student Union, and the Stamps School of Art & Design. This conversation is an opportunity to serve as a bridge between questions of inclusion and equity on campus and those in the surrounding communities. Conversation from these two dinners will be used to co-design the Ann Arbor food truck and pop-up dinner services; explore systems of exploitative power, censure, and resistance; and develop a third event with Tunde Wey in Ann Arbor.

To close his U-M visit, Wey will return to Hamtramck to create “Saartj Hamtramck,” a restaurant pop-up inside the community space Bank Suey, open from April 29 - May 5, 2018. Saartj Hamtramck will highlight work being done in Detroit by Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Devita Davison of FoodLab. These non-profit advocacy organizations employ food as a tool for community-based developments that aim to improve outcomes for Detroiters, namely African Americans.

For Professor Modrak, Wey’s approach paves the way for critical discussions around racial wealth disparity, discriminatory development, economic and social agency, and the ways that consumptive acts evidence status and privilege. And for Wey, “We’re looking to shift how we understand development so that it's not solely concerned with profit and scale, but with individuals and with the social integrity and social fabric of the community.”

Learn more about Tunde Wey’s work and approach through his recent interview with the Detroit Free Press.

Photos by Moyo Oyelola, courtesy of Tunde Wey.