Art exhibit 'bringing people together' using traditional Palestinian dish

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

Exhibit titled 'Home Is Where The Maqlouba Is' on display all week long

An art exhibit by University of Windsor student Jude Abu Zaineh is on display in the School of Creative Arts all week long. Behind her is a series of petri dishes showing the 'growth and decay' of maqlouba, a staple food during her upbringing. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

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."

The exhibit features a television showing a loop of Abu Zaineh eating maqlouba. She says it represents 'solitary eating' versus 'community eating.' (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

The exhibit, which is on display at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts all week, is Abu Zaineh's masters of fine arts thesis show. 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."

The more-than-500 samples of maqlouba were gathered by leftovers of Abu Zaineh's lunch and dinner guests. (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.

A neon sign is posted front-and-centre in the exhibit room, alternating between the Arabic words for 'west' and 'to be a stranger.' Abu Zaineh says it represents the constant pursuit for a better life which may not be attainable. (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 the closing reception will receive limited edition artwork from Abu Zaineh.

About the Author

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at


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