Bread is the most basic form of food and the most crucial. In Egypt, where more than 30 million people live below the poverty line, bread is more than a food staple. It is a symbol of endurance. This is why Moataz Nasser, the owner of Darb 1718 Gallery, decided to organize an exhibition of 12 different artists dedicated to this one simple foodstuff.
Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is welcomed by a simple, clean, white ambiance. On either side are paintings, sculptures, photographs, and video clips that evoke the scent of fresh bread. Throughout the three stories of the gallery there are 12 different installations by 12 different artists, each tackling bread and society from a different perspective.
Nasser says he first had the idea for an exhibition on bread in 2004, but was compelled to realize the idea after last year’s bread shortages, when Egyptians who rely on subsidized bread were force to queue at bakeries for hours to get their daily rations. Several people were injured during bread-related violence.
But the exhibition doesn’t just describe political events related to bread in Egypt. Rather, it encourages viewers “to rethink bread and create an open dialogue regarding that critical issue which touches everybody,” according to Nasser.
One of the outstanding series in the exhibition is the photography of Mohammed Khalifa. His piece Balady Bread is set against a dark background with a texture that resembles the Earth surfing in eternal space.
Nathan Doss’s sculpture series “Man does not live on bread alone” uses quartz stone to re-imagine traditional round Egyptian bread. “I have presented five pieces with reference to the Bible story of the five pieces of bread and the two fish,” Doss explains.
He chose the traditional Egyptian aish because it represents aisha, the Arab word for living. The quartz is the same color and shape as real stale bread to the point that it is almost hard tell that it is not.
On the second floor of Darb 1718, the voice of a sick, coughing person can be heard. It is unclear at first from where the sound originates. Finally, it becomes clear that it is the soundtrack to a video art installation by Nasser, the exhibition’s founder. “At death’s door” is a three minute clip representing the movement of a loaf of bread while baking. The video shows the bread as it swells and shrinks. Nasser said the video illustrates the current situation of bread.
So far the exhibition has been a great success. “It is one of the most successful experiences I have ever had as it touches the lifeline of everyday life,” said Doss.
The exhibition runs through 7 November, though the organizers are considering extending it three or four more days.
Contemporary Art and Culture Center
Kasr El Sham3 Street
Al Fakhareen – Old Cairo
Behind the Hanging Church and Amr Mosque