Share a meal, co-construct a community and create. The menu proposed by IMMART

[Version française]

Nicol Foulkes Savinetti, social scientist, founder of IMMART – International Migration Meets the Arts

For an artist, moving country is not only about finding housing and work in a foreign community. It is also about entering an art world governed by its own codes and networks. In Denmark, the non-profit organisation IMMART works for the social integration of foreign-born artists.

Commen­sality, the word we use for preparing and enjoying food together at the same table, is at the heart of the IMMART Dinner – a social event that combines art, networking and food that has created an alter­na­tive social space for foreign-born artists in Copen­hagen and abroad. IMMART is a migrant-led arts organ­i­sa­tion and network based in Denmark. Orig­i­nally thought of as the “action” part of an action research post-doc proposal for the Refugee Migra­tion and Gover­nance program at the Depart­ment of Global Polit­ical Studies, Univer­sity of Malmö, The orga­ni­za­tion was born out of conver­sa­tions about the artistic and creative skills that new arrivals were bringing to a then very “Danish” arts scene.

When I wrote the proposal in 2016, there were no orga­ni­za­tions that had the inter­ests of artists of foreign origin at their core. Very few foun­da­tions, artist interest groups and asso­ci­a­tions had infor­ma­tion in languages other than Danish, nor any schemes dedi­cated to artists of foreign origin. I wondered how newcomer artists (who are not big names in Denmark prior to their arrival) get a foot in the door if there is no insti­tu­tion, organ­i­sa­tion or network facil­i­tating their access. I did not get the post doc, but the foun­da­tions were laid for what would become IMMART.

With the support of Nordic Culture Point and Nordic Culture Fund, IMMART expanded its work in the Nordic region by co-establishing the Network for the Diversification of Nordic Arts and Culture (NECDAC). It is within this framework that the first IMMART Dinner Abroad took place in Malmö in 2019. Images: Nicol Savinetti

With the support of Nordic Culture Point and Nordic Culture Fund, IMMART expanded its work in the Nordic region by co-estab­lishing the Network for the Diver­si­fi­ca­tion of Nordic Arts and Culture (NECDAC). Within this frame­work, the first IMMART Dinner Abroad took place in Malmö in 2019. Right : photographs by Angelique Sanossian (Armenian Syrian). Photos : Nicol Savinetti

Accurate designation for better inclusion

In February 2016, under the highly contested name Immi­grant Art, we started to build a Face­book commu­nity. There was a big discus­sion about the name with our core team, with artists we met, and with different kinds of experts in the Nordic coun­tries and beyond : histo­rians, human rights special­ists, activists and acad­e­mics who focus on discrim­i­na­tion and racial­iza­tion, artists from different disci­plines and actors from other arts and culture insti­tu­tions. To them, the name Immi­grant Art was incon­gruent with the goals of the orga­ni­za­tion, and suggested the pejo­ra­tive clas­si­fi­ca­tion and exoti­ciza­tion of art made by visibly ethnic others in white-majority coun­tries. Another critique was the implied exclu­sion of Danes, including visibly ethnic-other Danish citi­zens, who were confronted regu­larly with similar forms of discrim­i­na­tion as artists with non-Danish citi­zen­ship. More­over, the name Immi­grant Art was also nega­tively perceived by many of the organization’s target group. Numerous artists of foreign origin living in Denmark didn’t want to be person­ally or profes­sion­ally defined by terms like “immi­grant” and “refugee”. Insisting on the origin and status of artists was coun­ter­pro­duc­tive : it denied the empow­er­ment that we wanted to give them. For these reasons[1]For more details on this debate, see Nicol Savinetti, Sacra­mento Roselló Mart­inéz, Sez Kris­tiansen, “Stitching IMMART. Over­coming the chal­lenge of inclu­sion without exclu­sion through the arts”, in : K. Riegel & F. Baban (eds.), Fostering Pluralism through Soli­darity Activism in Europe : Everyday Encoun­ters with Newcomers. … Lire la suite, the organ­i­sa­tion was finally named IMMART – Inter­na­tional Migra­tion Meets the Arts.

« The production, practice and consumption of art is at the core of IMMART activities, rather than a person’s heritage or migrant status. »

Nicol Savinetti

Today, the IMMART Network[2]IMMART Network On Face­book : https://​www​.face​book​.com/​g​r​o​u​p​s​/​1​0​4​2​8​6​2​3​3​3​04333/ has over 700 members. We do not have enough knowl­edge to be able to profile “the migrant artist”, but we do know that the artists in our network have not moved here because of the Danish arts scene ; they are here for other reasons such as fleeing war, accom­pa­nying a spouse, married to a Dane, self-initi­ated migra­tion and such. To date, we have had projects and part­ner­ships with artists and stake­holders who have migrated from over thirty different coun­tries : from El Salvador to Brazil, Finland to Italy, South Africa to Syria, and Indonesia to Australia. You can only imagine the culi­nary delight that this diver­sity brings to our pot-luck dinners !

Building bridges through community dinners 

Our first major event in 2016 was an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary arts festival show­casing the work of foreign-origin artists living in Denmark, Artival, where we orga­nized a dinner for the partic­i­pants. We imme­di­ately saw the poten­tial as we witnessed commen­sality stim­u­lating and facil­i­tating social inter­ac­tion. We started to arrange artist dinners in the privacy of our homes first, and then, given the success, in galleries and public spaces to have more impact.

IMMART bene­fited to some extent from favourable culi­nary condi­tions. There is indeed plenty of liter­a­ture supporting the idea that breaking bread and sharing food has social value[3]See David Sutton, “Becoming an ‘Other Human’: On the Role of Eating Together in Crisis Greece”, EuropeNow Journal [online], n°20, Sept. 2018. URL : https://​www​.europenowjournal​.org/​2​0​1​8​/​0​9​/​0​4​/​b​e​c​o​m​i​n​g​-​a​n​-​o​t​h​e​r​-​h​u​m​a​n​-​o​n​-​t​h​e​-​r​o​l​e​-​o​f​-​e​a​t​i​n​g​-​t​o​g​e​t​h​e​r​-​i​n​-​c​r​i​s​i​s​-​g​reece/. Denmark is also well-known for its culi­nary prac­tices, world class restau­rants, and commu­nity kitchen and social food are also very popular in cities[4]In Copen­hagen alone, the munic­i­pality lists seven­teen different options, and this does not include other privately run restau­rants and cafés that offer communal dining on a regular basis. See https://​inter​na​tional​.kk​.dk/​a​r​t​i​k​e​l​/​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​t​y​-​k​i​t​c​h​e​n​s​-​f​o​l​k​e​k​o​kkener.. However, the success of IMMART Dinners is the result of purposeful intent : to show­case and promote artists and upcoming festi­vals, to work­shop ideas and projects, or simply as an oppor­tu­nity to mingle and meet new people or cele­brate the comple­tion of a project… Depending on the theme, the dinners are attended by artist peers, cultural workers, gallerists, jour­nal­ists, art consumers and other stakeholders.

With the support of Nordic Culture Point and Nordic Culture Fund, IMMART expanded its work in the Nordic region by co-establishing the Network for the Diversification of Nordic Arts and Culture (NECDAC). It is within this framework that the first IMMART Dinner Abroad took place in Malmö in 2019. Images: Nicol Savinetti

Left : Nabil Kassis (Syria) playing a Qanun which he crafted himself, with, in the back­ground, a painting by Evan­ge­lene Subashini Paul (Sri Lankan Cana­dian). Photo : Nicol Savinetti

Create a true feeling of community membership

The IMMART Dinner is a dynamic space where thoughts, expe­ri­ences, emotions and ideas emerge, evolve and are discussed. It serves as a way to main­tain reci­procity in social rela­tions and create a feeling of commu­nity member­ship. As one artist and social entre­pre­neur expresses, Tina Israni (US/​India), the dinners also support and encourage artists in their creative process and practice : 

“As an emerging artist myself, IMMART dinners provided a great sense of support to encourage my expres­sion and explo­ration within the arts. While I person­ally believe we all are artists of our own life, meeting estab­lished artists as well as those exploring different mediums as hobbies at each dinner, enabled me to embark on my own path as artist by iden­ti­fying myself amongst the IMMART network. Today I now travel on that journey and life of an artist, armed with the courage and support of such a network that IMMART provides, through the mediums of painting, singing and dancing.”

It is chal­lenging to feel a sense of inclu­sion and find commu­nity without a solid network. Being able to socialize and network is key to accessing work oppor­tu­ni­ties, regard­less of loca­tion or sector. For migrants, forging ties with people unlike them­selves – devel­oping linking social capital[5]Michael Wool­cock, “The Place of Social Capital in Under­standing Social and Economic Outcomes”, ISUMA. Cana­dian Journal of Policy Research, vol. 2, n°1, Spring 2001, p.11–17. URL : http://www.social-capital.net/docs/The%20Place%20of%20Social%20Capital.pdf – is extremely impor­tant, not least for gaining a good under­standing of cultural prac­tices, codes and norms[6]Nicol Savinetti, Encoun­tering Differ­ence : The Expe­ri­ence of Nordic Highly Skilled Citi­zens in India. Tampere, Tampere Univer­sity Press. Acta Univer­si­tatis Tamperensis, 2015, 368p. Acces­sible at : https://trepo.tuni.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/97220/978–951-44–9816‑9.pdf?sequence=1. As such, creating an informal network with actors from different areas of the Danish artscape was a central goal. As the former co-ordi­nator of the dinners, Charlie Brown (Australia/​UK), relays, 

“Denmark is a great country and if you are part of the commu­nity, life can be easy, however, if you are not, the networks are opaque and hard to crack. The IMMART dinners [are] a way of trying to inter­rupt this, to disrupt and create commu­nity, where there was other­wise none.”

We witness first­hand how sharing different cuisines cuts through any sense of social differ­ence ; for instance, simply (not) knowing about a partic­ular dish and how to eat it sparks conver­sa­tion and can cause a shift in the inter­per­sonal and group dynamic.

Open to all artists beyond their nationality

I was convinced that IMMART has the greatest chance of success if we operate with an ethos of inclu­sion without exclu­sion because of my personal journey that has allowed me to deal with these issues in various forms:, in my work, educa­tion and research, belonging to a visible minority every­where I have lived, and also in the strug­gles of my parents, as migrants, left-wing activists and ethnic minori­ties in 1970s and 80s UK. The back­ground research for the project also revealed that foreign-origin artists, regard­less of nation­ality or reason for migrating, found the Danish arts scene chal­lenging to access.

IMMART is partic­ular in that it is open to artists, cultural workers and art lovers, whether they are foreign-born or Danish. Among our members, many feel or choose to be at the fringe of the local arts scene. We have not had to search for Danish artists nor fight for cross-cultural collaborations—they have come completely organ­i­cally. Dorthe Witting, Danish hobby artist, ”attended many different ‘Danish’ artists or creatives meet-ups but never felt quite comfort­able…” She concludes : ”I feel like I have found my tribe in IMMART.”

« Numerous artists of foreign origin living in Denmark didn’t want to be personally and professionally defined by terms like “immigrant” and “refugee”. This name disempowered the very people we were striving to empower. »

Nicol Savinetti

The produc­tion, prac­tice and consump­tion of art is at the core of IMMART activ­i­ties, rather than a person’s heritage or migrant status. As such, we have never targeted a partic­ular cultural or geo-polit­ical group, neither have we ever asked the members how they define them­selves in migra­tion termi­nology. Further­more, while “out-group only” orga­ni­za­tions are neces­sary in the fight for equity and equal rights, I believe that cross-nation­ality organ­i­sa­tions such as IMMART are neces­sary if the ulti­mate goal is to co-create sustain­able and peaceful ethni­cally diverse societies.

After four years of intense volun­teerism, we are making efforts to become more sustain­able. We aim to invite chefs to prepare the meals and hold our dinners four times a year, and also to bring commen­sality to virtual spaces by feeding and nour­ishing foreign-born artists and wider artistic commu­ni­ties with online services (e.g., an arts and culture direc­tory) and educa­tion (e.g., virtual semi­nars on how to work with galleries).

Notes

Notes
1 For more details on this debate, see Nicol Savinetti, Sacra­mento Roselló Mart­inéz, Sez Kris­tiansen, “Stitching IMMART. Over­coming the chal­lenge of inclu­sion without exclu­sion through the arts”, in : K. Riegel & F. Baban (eds.), Fostering Pluralism through Soli­darity Activism in Europe : Everyday Encoun­ters with Newcomers. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, p. 140–143. URL : https://​www​.palgrave​.com/​g​p​/​b​o​o​k​/​9​7​8​3​0​3​0​568931
2 IMMART Network On Face­book : https://​www​.face​book​.com/​g​r​o​u​p​s​/​1​0​4​2​8​6​2​3​3​3​04333/
3 See David Sutton, “Becoming an ‘Other Human’: On the Role of Eating Together in Crisis Greece”, EuropeNow Journal [online], n°20, Sept. 2018. URL : https://​www​.europenowjournal​.org/​2​0​1​8​/​0​9​/​0​4​/​b​e​c​o​m​i​n​g​-​a​n​-​o​t​h​e​r​-​h​u​m​a​n​-​o​n​-​t​h​e​-​r​o​l​e​-​o​f​-​e​a​t​i​n​g​-​t​o​g​e​t​h​e​r​-​i​n​-​c​r​i​s​i​s​-​g​reece/
4 In Copen­hagen alone, the munic­i­pality lists seven­teen different options, and this does not include other privately run restau­rants and cafés that offer communal dining on a regular basis. See https://​inter​na​tional​.kk​.dk/​a​r​t​i​k​e​l​/​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​t​y​-​k​i​t​c​h​e​n​s​-​f​o​l​k​e​k​o​kkener.
5 Michael Wool­cock, “The Place of Social Capital in Under­standing Social and Economic Outcomes”, ISUMA. Cana­dian Journal of Policy Research, vol. 2, n°1, Spring 2001, p.11–17. URL : http://www.social-capital.net/docs/The%20Place%20of%20Social%20Capital.pdf
6 Nicol Savinetti, Encoun­tering Differ­ence : The Expe­ri­ence of Nordic Highly Skilled Citi­zens in India. Tampere, Tampere Univer­sity Press. Acta Univer­si­tatis Tamperensis, 2015, 368p. Acces­sible at : https://trepo.tuni.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/97220/978–951-44–9816‑9.pdf?sequence=1

To go further
The author

Nicol Savinetti is a Doctor of Social Science (Social Policy, Univer­sity of Tampere). She is Founder and Director of IMMART.

To cite this article

Nicol Savinetti, « Share a meal, co-construct a commu­nity and create. The menu proposed by IMMART », in : Elsa Gomis, Perin Emel Yavuz et Francesco Zucconi (dir.), Dossier « Les images migrent aussi », De facto [En ligne], 24 | Janvier 2021, mis en ligne le 29 Janvier 2020. URL : https://www.icmigrations.cnrs.fr/en/2021/01/06/defacto-024–03-en/

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