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Exhibitions and Events

Visiting artist Tunde Wey to host food truck, discuss equity, race, privilege through food

By Truly Render

Photo of Tunde Wey during his pop-up dinner series “Blackness in America.” Photos by Moyo Oyelola; Courtesy Tunde Wey.

ANN ARBOR—This month, the University of Michigan 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 reframe conversations about equity and race.

“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,” said Wey in a recent interview with GQ Magazine.

Photos of Tunde Wey during his pop-up dinner series “Blackness in America.” Photos by Moyo Oyelola; Courtesy Tunde Wey.

Tunde Wey is bringing his pop-up dinner series concept to Ann Arbor and Detroit this month. Photos by Moyo Oyelola; Courtesy Tunde Wey.

Rebekah Modrak, associate professor at the Stamps School, is hosting Wey for his Ann Arbor visit as a Roman J. Witt Visiting Artist.

“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 U-M, he is no stranger to the region. At 16, Wey came to Detroit to study and went on to co-own Hamtramck’s Revolver, a permanent pop-up space featuring rotating guest chefs. He is now based in New Orleans.

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. It will take place 7-9 p.m. April 20 at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

Wey’s campus visit continues the next week, when he’ll create a public dinnertime food truck dining experience April 24-25 at the U-M Ginsberg Center at the corner of E. University and Hill streets.

The food truck will appear at Argus Farm Stop, 325 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor, April 26-27. Hours of operation are 5-8 p.m. 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, 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.

Another dinner at Jefferson Market will bring together planning members of the Ann Arbor African American Downtown Festival, Peace Neighborhood Center, a city councilman and others with university participants from the National Center for Institutional Diversity, Black Student Union and Stamps School. They will discuss 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 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, April 29-May 5. 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 nonprofit advocacy organizations employ food as a tool for community-based developments that aim to improve outcomes for Detroiters, namely African-Americans.

For 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, he said he’s “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.”

Wey’s visit is co-sponsored by the Stamps School of Art & Design; U-M 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; Jefferson Market; Zingerman’s; and Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original.

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