Cousoumeh x Wa Na Wari
Callaloo: An Artist-Led Food Experience
July 20th and July 25th, 2022
Wa Na Wari, Seattle
We at Cousoumeh Collective at its core believe in the spirit and immense potential of collaborations, particularly through food. We seek to provide a safe space with a focus on Caribbean people and people of the diaspora to come together, whether to rejoice, to cry, to vent or just simply share experiences.
The Caribbean stands as a living, breathing and ever evolving example of reclamation of space in the face of trauma and harrowing histories, creating a deep empathetic connection to initiatives such as Wa Na Wari that have sought to protect and uplift the Black community in the face of not only historical, but also contemporary attempts at erasure through gentrification. Cousoumeh is thrilled to collaborate with Wa Na Wari to host this special gathering, with a focus on self-care, preservation and reclamation, both in relation to the cuisine we are serving and to the context of Wa Na Wari’s local community, honouring our shared histories.
In Volume 30, No. 1 of the long running publication Callaloo, A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, Haitian author Edwidge Danticat says in an interview with Nancy Raquel Mirabal: “We’re nostalgic about food because food sustains us. We literally couldn’t live very long without food. But food is also what anchors us to a place… We eat, and so food easily becomes symbolic of life itself, of the people who love us…That’s what we first notice, what we’re first introduced to, and I think that’s what we notice most when we switch cultures…” (‘Dyasporic Appetites and Longings: An Interview with Edwidge Danticat’, Winter 2007, pp. 26-39).
Whether it is Kamau Brathwaite’s In the Castle of My Skin (New York: Collier, 1953), Antonio Benitez-Rojo’s The Repeating Island (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), or Austin Clarke’s Pigtails ‘n’ Breadfruit: The Rituals of Slave Food (Toronto: Random House Canada, 1999) to name just a few, there are countless accounts across literature and critical cultural thought around the immense value of food and particularly certain dishes to the identity of Caribbean and African diasporic people. To this end, our offering for this collaboration will feature two such critical dishes that celebrate our roots and the multiplicities of our heritage across continents and regions: callaloo and cou cou.
This intimate event invites open conversation and candid sharing of cultures, through collective remembrance and the creation of new memories and moments of celebration. We wish to generate an atmosphere that engenders agency within our own joy; it is a stereotype that people of African and Caribbean descent love to dance, to lime, to party – and we reject any attempt to assign negative connotations to this culture and our happiness. In taking ownership of our ways of communion, Cousoumeh and Wa Na Wari encourage attendees to shed external perceptions, and to embrace the comfort that comes with sharing food, dance, laughter and care for one another; a space of softness that stands against a pervasive harshness that threatens – but does not thrive – in our communities.
Cousoumeh’s Reflection on the Events:
Realizing that the gallery itself has Nigerian roots by way of one of the co-founders Inye Wokoma, we decided to use this entry point to tie in the shared history – the Caribbean, by way of Trinidadian and Barbadian, Nigerian and Black American history and cultures. The first step was choosing a menu that reflected the shared history, which our chef, Mr. Cabral worked on – callaloo (brought to the Caribbean via the enslaved Africans), coucou/coocoo the national dish of Barbados (similar to that of fufu from the West African countries). Furthermore, themes focusing on reclaiming space, self-care and movement were selected for these sessions with the gallery after learning about the gentrification of the area. What was once an 80% Black population has now been condensed to less than 10% as people are continuously being pushed out of their homes.
As Caribbean bodies, we understood the importance of movement and reclaiming spaces so participants were invited at each session to get up, dance, share their ideas and thoughts around a Q & A session we held after. In the ever growing face of gentrification which can be and is very traumatic for a lot of people, being able to reclaim space and move freely can be therapeutic and what better way to promote movement of black bodies than with the vibrant and energetic sound of soca.
- Caribbean dishes with ties to African heritage prepared and served free of cost;
- Zines which contained a description of the event and the histories and recipes of each dish served were distributed, to share the knowledge and significance of the meal and encourage attendees to make the foods themselves;
- Gifts of handmade soap samples by Trinidadian small business AI Naturals and traditional coucou sticks from Barbados were given to attendees as tokens of gratitude and sharing of local, cultural experiences and talents;
- Caribbean music was played and movement and dance as a means to reclaim space was encouraged;
- Participants could opt to take part in a series of questions, crafted around the event to deepen understanding of certain practices of cultural understanding, nourishment, care of self and care of community. The questions were as follows:
Do you use food as a coping mechanism/source of comfort?
What’s your go-to food when you’re in a good mood?
What’s your go-to food when you’re in a bad mood?
When you hear the word ‘diaspora’, what does that mean to you?
In the face of changing communities and landscapes through gentrification, what keeps you grounded and attached to this space?
What do you do for others to show affection and love?
What gestures or acts from others make you feel cared for?
What are some of your favourite songs to sing or dance to?