In photos: Artists reflect on bread in exhibit at Cairo’s Darb 1718

Soha Elsirgany , Sunday 26 Jun 2016

This is the second exhibit curated by Darb 1718 on the subject of bread, the first being in 2010

Hanaa Eldegham
Artwork by Hanaa El-Degham (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Bread II, a group exhibition featuring artwork from 18 young artists, opened at Darb 1718 on 14 June. 

Through paintings, installations, video, photography and writing, the multimedia works in the exhibit, which runs until 31 August, look at the many associations and symbols bread invokes.

The oldest and most basic of foods, eaten by everyone around the world in different forms and recipes, bread has come to hold much more meaning than its dietary purpose.

It has made its way into language with expressions like "earning bread," meaning making a living, and the Egyptian expression of "sharing bread and salt," or how people bond over food.

“It conveys unity when it's shared in Ramadan around the iftar table. It conveys good wishes of prosperity when it's given to a bride and groom at a Slavic wedding. It conveys sacrifice when it's shared between two hungry men,” the exhibition statement reads.

Medhat Benzoher
Artwork by Medhat Benzoher (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The exhibit is the second of its kind at Darb 1718, which in 2010 hosted an exhibition titled El-Khobz (Bread) following the 2008 shortage of grain that caused long queues at local bakeries and left millions of people relying on subsidies. The 2010 exhibit saw artists focusing on the economic and political attachments to bread.

This time around the exhibit aims to survey what bread means to Egyptians now, on the personal, political and social levels. The projects were chosen from the pool of submissions in response to an open call issued by Darb 1718.

The 18 artists have taken very different approaches in their reflections on bread, and the group exhibit materialises like a quick survey or a brainstorming on the subject.

Some artists chose a very direct approach, such as Mai El-Shazly who participated with a documentary video titled In The Make, filming the bread-making process in a rural neighbourhood.

“I was excited with the subject of the exhibition and tried to answer the question ‘What does bread mean?'" El-Shazly told Ahram Online.

"The bread theme was very special. To rethink and relocate bread and elicit a response from viewers is challenging,” she added. 

The artist, who usually works with photography, created the video quite spontaneously.

“It was a trial of an improvisational video piece. It was unplanned. I went to a wedding in a rural area and I liked their bread-making process, and how it reflected the significance of bread in their lives,” she says.

Mohamed Ismail Shawky
Installation by Mohamed Ismail Shawky (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

El-Shazly adds that she was also excited to see the work of other artists and how they would use bread in a new context.

Hany El-Wagez looked into the practicality of acquiring bread in Egypt. He presented three black and white portraits of two men and a woman that mimic ID photos on the bread subsidy card, with the official stamp of the Ministry of Supply and Trade marked on the faces.

Another artist, Medhat Benzoher, evokes a more spiritual connection to bread, creating a circular mandala with different types of bread, hung like an ornament on the wall.

Benzoher compares bread to a cell, the smallest component and the beginning of all life.

“Despite its central importance, the cell is barely visible and we often overlook it, just like bread,” he writes in his statement.

Seeing as a mandala is a spiritual symbol (in India) representing the universe growing out of a single point, Benzoher’s mandala honors bread while giving it space to radiate.

Emad Abo Grein
Artwork by Emad Abo Grein (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Artist Emad Abu Grain also joined in with an installation titled Eish w Malh (Bread and Salt), referring to the common Egyptian expression that describes the bonding that occurs between people who share food, even if it’s a simple meal.

The installation comprised wall paintings of people with plates of bread before them, and a floor covered in salt with drawings similar to doodles drawn in the sand.

On the second floor of the exhibition hall, artist Fajr Soliman filled up a wall with a mural titled Bread City.

Her white line drawing on a black wall seems like chalk on a blackboard, as she depicts winged loaves of traditional "baladi" bread flying above a landscape of crammed buildings.

“I was interested to join the exhibit because of the theme, as an item for people to work on, and that this item was something important and simple like bread,” Soliman says.

“Through the city of bread I can show how capitalism affects bread,” she adds.

Shatha El-Deghedy
Shatha El-Deghedy (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Perhaps the most poignant of the projects was Aya Walyeldin Sabry’s text-based project Crumbs of Home.

The non-fiction piece looks into the layers of meanings and relationships Sabry discovered in bread when she was far from her Egyptian home. Her words offer a look from the outside, which in context of the exhibition acts like an inclusive overview.

“To be is to be related,” she quotes Anne Marie Mol, explaining how this sentence from an anthropology class she attended became a reality describing her relationship to bread.

“The Aysh (bread) was no longer an isolated item I could mechanically buy, store and consume. Nor was it a lifeless topic that I could subject to detached analysis and an academic gaze, theorising how it symbolised life or rights or cultures, or how political economy was tightly woven in its dough. Instead bread stirred into multiple layers of processes that I experienced, embodied, lived and remembered,” Sabry writes.

The way Sabry spells Aysh allows it to sound like the Arabic word for life.

“Now, I enter the Makhbaz and patiently seek the cosmos at the touch of the bread,” Sabry poetically ends her written piece.

Fajr Soliman
Artwork by Fajr Soliman (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

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