Dates for Sale

Gastronomica’s August 2007 “Politics of Food” edition contains an engaging interview with Michael Rakowitz, an American artist who is also an Iraqi Jew by descent.

In 2006 Rakowitz reopened and relocated a Brooklyn shop called Davisons & Co. that did business from 1946 through 1963. In its previous life, it was a regular grocery store run by Rakowitz’s late grandfather. In its new incarnation, it became a combination Iraqi date clearinghouse (selling dates, date syrup, and mamoul cookies derived from Iraqi dates) and an art project that offered free shipping of goods to Iraq. Customers could also look at photos of Iraqi dates that hadn’t yet arrived for a variety of reasons that echoed the humanitarian and political crises taking place in the country.

For the duration of Davisons’ three-month existence, the dates and shipping prompted visits, calls, and queries from a wide range of customers who almost inevitably found themselves drawn into a conversation with Rakowitz about the conditions on the ground in Iraq. The purpose was to use a grocery store as an alternative to CNN, a different way to tell the stories of the everyday people living and dying within the country. It also served as a magnet for those in New York with friends and family in Iraq; the free shipping was an offer as perplexing and foreboding as it was enticing, and it opened up an entirely different channel of conversation with the public.

A blog maintained by Rakowitz over the lifetime of the store is a great counterpoint to the Gastronomica interview. Nonhysterical and non-“arty,” this very literal journaling of the store experience is engaging without being an exercise in artifice.

It’s not often that contemporary artists get as much time and as many words as Rakowitz gets in Gastronomica, and it’s rare indeed that—as Rakowitz does—they deserve every column inch of space.

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