Chef Tunde Wey wants his diners to find love.
Wey is the artist behind dinner series Marriage Trumps All, a two-night event in collaboration with City of Asylum and the August Wilson Center. The dinner, coinciding with the AWC exhibit Familiar Boundaries. Infinite Possibilities, facilitates unions between U.S. citizens and immigrants. It sits somewhere between an experiment, live art, and a meal.
“It’s art because it’s part of a show,” Wey explains. “But it’s also something else. It’s also political. It’s also social critique because it’s interrogating marriage. It’s many things, it just depends on who is asking and why they’re asking."
Wey is known for art-centric dinners. His last Pittsburgh residency, Blackness in America, was designed to spark conversation around the title’s topic. It’s a response to his experience with social inconsistencies, challenging orthodoxy in spaces. For his next series, Wey shifts his focus to marriage.
It’s rare to see the focus on marriage in today’s process-oriented dating. There’s no swiping, no categorizing, or impulsive choices at the dinner. Marriage Trumps All doesn’t indulge mass-dating consumption; instead, it questions the idea of limited love.
Wey views marriage as a way to tear down discriminatory walls. He refers to the Defense of Marriage Act, as evidence that institutions change because of external pressure. “Marriage is a powerful tool,” he says.
With the current tension on U.S. borders and immigrant rights, Wey chose to target intersectionality. At Wey’s dinner, blind dates are set up exclusively between U.S. citizens and immigrants.
“In addition to critiquing where marriage is right now, this dinner series is about using influences that have created a confused idea of marriage to allow real and honest difference,” Wey says. “We can, through dinners like this, through projects like this, reaffirm the power of marriage as a rejection of the idea of borders and discrimination.”
Wey doesn't know what’s on the menu yet — he’s letting the spirit lead him, probably in the direction of yams, beans, and maybe chicken. But he’s confident that it’s realistic to find love at his table.
On the event’s website, Wey limits the search to singles, “explicitly interested in a long-term romantic partnership, with a serious intent to marry.” Applications are reviewed and interviewed in order to organize compatible partnerships in limited seating. Marriage Trumps All has generated quite a buzz, with over 100 candidates from across the country competing for the dinner’s 16 seats. And, there’s an added incentive: the first couple to marry receives a cash gift.
The cash prize is donation-based. He created the contribution space as an opportunity for those who aren’t single to give to his cause. As of now, the cash prize is at zero.
But to Wey, cash doesn’t cheapen the end result. It helps construct a realistic union.
“From my experience and the people I know who are married, love is just the beginning,” he said. “Love is what gets you in the door. What keeps you married is the stuff you start building together.”
Marriage Trumps All. 7 p.m. Fri., Feb 8-Sat., Feb 9. August Wilson Cultural Center. 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown. marriagetrumpsall.com