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Shawarma on wall: Museum delivers Arab-American take on Cattelan's taped banana

'When there are conversations about art, Arab Americans have something to say,' says manager of Arab American National Museum
A photo of the shawarma taped to the wall went viral (Courtesy of Arab American National Museum)

If conceptual art is defined by what it conveys, what is a chicken shawarma sandwich taped to the wall at an Arab-American museum trying to tell us?

Perhaps that Arabic food is great - or that everything is better with garlic sauce?

For Matthew Stiffler, research and content manager at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, the idea behind the shawarma-on-the-wall is even simpler still.

"It was just a funny thing, but we also want to make a claim that when there are conversations about art happening, Arab Americans have something to say," he told MEE.

Put on display at the museum on Monday, the artwork is a "tongue-in-cheek" way to put an Arab-American spin on Maurizio Cattelan's taped banana, which grabbed international headlines and preoccupied the artworld last week, Stiffler said.

He added that as light-hearted as the shawarma artwork is, it fits into the museum's mission of promoting Arab-American art. 

"The museum is focusing on building Arab-American art - building the capacity for Arab-American artists to do their work, building our collection of art," Stiffler said.

The sandwich served its intended purpose, garnering attention on social media, with people expressing admiration for the museum's comedic approach.

"New art piece for sale," read a caption of a photo of the sandwich posted on Twitter on Monday. 

The caption, too, was a nod to Cattelan's banana; the artist sold the idea behind the installation three times, for amounts ranging between $120,000 and $150,000.

"A banana taped to a wall is 120k € but this is priceless...this is Shawrma!" one Twitter user commented on the Arab American National Museum's post.

'It was just a funny thing, but we also want to make a claim that when there are conversations about art happening, Arab Americans have something to say'

- Matthew Stiffler, Arab American National Museum

Stiffler, who came up with the shawarma piece with museum curator Elizabeth Barret-Sullivan, said he wanted something quintessentially Arab American to serve as a statement on Cattelan's artwork. 

"I was thinking eggplant, and she was like, 'No, shawarma'. I said: 'Oh my god, we're doing it'."

Dearborn, which is home to a large Arab community, is known for its Arabic restaurants.

The museum bought the sandwich from Country Chicken, a Arabic restaurant in Dearborn, without alerting the chef that it would turn into a work of art, said Stiffler.

Thinly cut and heavily seasoned, roasted chicken served with garlic sauce and pickles on pita bread - shawarma sandwiches are a go-to fast food staple for all the city's residents.

The sandwich in Stiffler and Barret-Sullivan's masterpiece did not go to waste, either.

It was eaten by the museum's media designer, Aya Krisht.

"It was very delicious," Krisht wrote on Twitter after posting a photo of the half-eaten sandwich.