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Migrant Menus: Placemaking and Belonging in Dubai's Food History
The proposed paper presents part of an ongoing research commissioned by a cultural institution in Dubai, Art Jameel, in which menus from migrant communities in Dubai's history was surveyed, collected and analyzed. Dubai is a temporary home to nearing 90% of its migrant population, which has come and gone in waves throughout its history leaving remnants of an official and marginalized food history. The paper explores the menus as a point of confluence where material culture, memory and history become interconnected elements that are produced and reproduced throughout time. Through deconstructing the elements of the menus and juxtaposing them against the socio-political contexts, much is revealed about issues of migrant identities, belonging, and placemaking. In this project, the construct of a menu is re-approached and made more malleable to include lists of food items that were consumed in the everyday life: meals at home, birthday parties spreads, school and work lunches, and street snacks from roaming bakery canteen-vans. Oral history interviews are used to not only act as supporting context, but as a means to reproduce menus of the everyday life of individuals through their memories. This aims to fill the gap created by the lack of documentation and archiving of these recalled menus, due the quotidian nature of food, the transient quality of the migrant communities, and the prevalent oral culture of the region. In addition to memory, menus are located in and recreated from archives, community cookbooks, television and the press, as well as conversations around ‘expat’ memories on social media. The paper functions as a survey and an analysis of such archival material, and engages in questions about the precarious existence of temporary migrants in the Gulf.
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