Who are TATI: A talk with Maher Anjum
“Very little is expected of women of colour, but we are here to put a marker on the sand”Maher Anjum
TATI is an Oitij-jo Collective initiative set up to support women and young people. They have been working with us here at Artsadmin since 2020. TATI aims to build a ground-breaking women and young people-led arts and crafts hub and cooking project serving authentic Bangla home-style dishes in London’s fast-changing east London.
Helen, Marketing and Fundraising Trainee at Artsadmin, interviewed Maher Anjum, head of TATI and the Oitij-jo Collective, in which she spoke about their visions and ambitions:
Tell us, who are TATI?
TATI is an initiative set up by the Oitij-jo Collective. We started in 2018, when we did some crowdfunding. We had 117 individuals, the Mayor of London, Tower Hamlets, City of London Corporation and others who assisted us with the funding and we started working in 2019.
The majority of the women we work with are British Bangladeshi women from Tower Hamlets and surrounding this area. The main work we have been doing is training them, building up their skills and self-confidence by working with what skills and experience they already have, which is working in the kitchen at home, but taking it to a commercial level so that they feel they can serve their Bangla culture food to a wider audience, in a nutshell.
What is OITIJ-JO then, as a whole?
OITIJ-JO Collective started in about 2012/2013. The main objective of the collective is very much about sharing and supporting the British Bangladeshi diaspora in particular, but not entirely. It’s also for those who are interested in Bangla crafts and creativity, everything within the creative sector.
It’s also about supporting young people, and connecting them up and letting them see how much heritage there is in the traditions of Bengal and Bangladesh culture and creativity, because I think what tends to happen within diaspora communities is that ties are lost. Therefore younger generations are not fully aware of all the traditional kinds of practices, which can be enhanced, developed and worked from. So that’s what we’re really here for.
How long have you been working with Toynbee Studios? And what brought you to Toynbee Studios?
We’ve been working with Toynbee Studios since 2020. Last year, when the pandemic started, we lost all the kitchens we were working in, and I was put in contact with the Directors, Deb and Róise. We started talking about what we’re doing as TATI and what some of the aspirations were for the Arts Bar & Café in particular. It felt like there was a good marriage between what we are doing from a cultural, creative cooking perspective, and what you had on offer. We thought, okay, let’s try it; we were invited to come to use the kitchen, and we’ve been here ever since.
And talking of the kitchen, tell us about some of the things you’ve been doing here at Toynbee and the projects you’ve been a part of.
We do the TATI lunch for the public once a week, which is on every Wednesday, so an existing TATI chef will work with a new volunteer to prepare food.
We’ve also been doing the TATI Summer Playscheme meals for the Tower Hamlets locale, for children aged eight to 12. And as part of the playscheme, we cook warm food every day for the children and that’s been really good.
And we’ve also been doing some catering events. So, a lot of the preparation work happens here at the Toynbee Studios kitchen. And we are a part of all of these [projects] as it enables us to work with more women. It has allowed women to come in and learn how to work in a real café, in a real kitchen, because they can all cook, but it’s not just about cooking. It’s about how to scale it up, and cook commercially, cook for the public, ensuring you’re doing it correctly and adhering to health and safety, and food hygiene. It’s also about learning how to work in a team, how to interact with the public, because most of us do not have the chance to do this unless it’s part of our day job.
And that’s why it’s been so important to have access to the kitchen, here, at Toynbee Studios’ Arts Bar & Cafe because it’s enabled us to do all of that, so, that I think, is amazing. We’re really proud of the women, we’re really proud of being able to do this and having this opportunity.
How do you wish to impact the community, not only the women that are part of TATI, but the community as a whole?
I think what’s important about OITIJ-JO Collective and TATI is that we work with the essence of Bangla culture and creativity. And it’s about showing it to the wider community, as you say, of what all of it is. So it’s not just saying, ‘this is who we are, this is our culture and that’s it’ because if you make roti, you have roti in so many parts [of the world] and different versions of it; [from] flatbread to tortillas, across the world, everyone uses it. So it’s having it as a centre point and that’s why the food side is really important; it allows people to interact and engage. It enables us to kind of you know, create that wider conversation.
On the topic of food, what’s your favourite Bangladeshi-inspired meal to cook?
I love fish so anything fish, with the rice and daal you know something really basic with – we have these things called bhorta which is basically mash, with lots of chilies, lots of lemon. Anything fish-based and I’m good – just leave me alone in a corner!
So, going forward, what does the future hold for TATI?
I’d like to have my own kitchen. I think I’ve said this to everyone every time we meet! It is brilliant being here at the Arts Bar & Cafe but having our own kitchen, our own cafe, you know, that would be like, to die for… well hopefully before that!
Because I think very little is expected of women of colour. You know, we talked about Black Lives Matter, but actually, it’s not acknowledged that women’s lives aren’t acknowledged, black women’s lives aren’t acknowledged. So to be able to say that we have achieved that, our own kitchen, as a group of women of colour, and by having a space with our name, for us, is the marker on the sand. Like, yes, we are here and we’re here to stay. This is what we are and this is what we want to do, how you like it or not, doesn’t really matter. And I think that is the bit that I would like us to achieve.
We also hope for more women to get involved, and for men and everyone else to come and support us.
For OITIJ-JO, we currently have the Craft Hub, where we are doing a lot of craft, design, art and a lot more. Join one of our sessions which started in September. There are lots of fun activities to join, take part and volunteer with us.
Whatever it is, come talk to us – we may not have even thought of something that you want to do. So tell us what you want to do. And if we can, we’ll work with you to make it happen, it doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you’re LGBT+ or you’re heterosexual, what we want is for everyone to be coming through our doors working with us, regardless of how they identify. Because that’s what it always has meant for us.
Come and taste TATI’s delicious lunches every Wednesday at the Arts Bar and Cafe at Toynbee Studios and join a coffee morning with TATI and Artsadmin to support Macmillan Cancer Support on 29 September.