Art exhibit 'bringing people together' using traditional Palestinian dish

If the walls of University of Windsor student Jude Abu Zaineh's art exhibit could talk, "they would tell you that maqlouba is a really delicious food."

The exhibit, titled Home Is Where The Maqlouba Is, features 525 petri dishes of food molecules, a television with a nonstop loop of Abu Zaineh eating food and a constantly-changing neon sign.

It's all to pay homage to a traditional Palestinian dish called maqlouba — which Abu Zaineh describes as "an upside-down rice casserole."

"You start by layering some sliced potatoes in a pot. On top of that, you have sliced tomatoes, cauliflower, some form of meat — either chicken or beef — and then it's packed with a lot of spiced rice," she said.

"All of these ingredients that are layered are cooked for a couple hours. And once you're done, you flip the pot upside down in a serving platter and you're left with a very sculptural rice dish. It's a really great community meal."

Sanjay Maru/CBC

The exhibit, which is on display at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts all week, is the "thesis show" for Abu Zaineh. She said her Palestinian roots were the inspiration behind the exhibit.

"The reason why I was using maqlouba as the source material for a lot of my artwork is because I was thinking about this notion of home ... and how food can become this very accessible way of bringing people together," said Abu Zaineh.

"Every Friday, my family would get together for a nice, big Friday lunch. Often times, we would have maqlouba as the central dish with a lot of side dishes around the table."

Sanjay Maru/CBC

Maqlouba remains an important food in Abu Zaineh's life. She makes it herself and said it's usually the "central component" when she cooks lunch or dinner for others. But the leftovers actually have a purpose for her artwork.

"I start by taking these leftovers and putting them in petri dishes. I'm documenting the growth and decay of the food over time. These become art objects and sculptures that make their way into my exhibition."

She adds making her exhibit "accessible" to the public was her biggest challenge behind its construction.

Sanjay Maru/CBC

"I'm hoping that people will think about the diversity that we all share. The things that make us different are also the things that bring us together."

Home Is Where The Maqlouba Is will be on display in the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts gallery all week, culminating in a closing reception Friday between 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

The first 50 people who show up to th closing reception will receive limited edition artwork from Abu Zaineh.