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EL MATAM EL MISH-MASERY
(The Non-Egyptian Restaurant)

Installation, collaborative action, photography

 

El Matam El Mish Masry is an instrument for common critical analysis to help understand the reasons behind Egyptians’ diminishing access to food. The project’s title, (The Non-Egyptian Restaurant) makes reference to a feeling shared by many Egyptians: that they live in a country no longer their own, a country that is in “someone else’s” hands.

The work involved the creation of a small restaurant in the neighbourhood of Ard El Lewa, one of the informal settlements of Greater Cairo, through witch to deal with issues related to export/import policies, as well as considering the side effects of uncontrolled growth of suburban areas on top of agricultural land.


 

The kitchen was installed in the dokkan at artellewa art space, in the fashion of a local popular restaurant. It opened during the entire month of November 2012 and worked according to the following menus:

Week 1 MENU 1:

We cooked with the best quality Egyptian grown products intended for an international market and rarely accessible to the Egyptian population. In collaboration with Elisabeth Shoghi, international 5 starts chef.

Week 2 MENU 2:

We cooked with ingredients that are affordable for low-income families in the area of Ard El Lewa, buying in the local market. Four women from the neighbourhood, Om Islam, Om Mohamed, Om Karim and Waefá were invited to cook the recipes according to their actual household budgets.

 

Week 3 MENU 3:

As a symbolic act, we are harvested our ingredients from the land that surrounds the restaurant, witch once was agricultural land. Every day the designated area grew 200 meters, until reaching 1 km on the fourth day of the week. Finding plastic, cigarette butts, or discarded chewing gums where 30 years ago were tomatoes, onions, lettuces… The found ingredients were cooked and presented merely for display purposes. In collaboration with Solafa Ghanem and Rana Khodair.

Week 4 MENU 4:

In the fashion of an agro-archaeology exercise, we conducted a series of excavations taking as starting point the restaurant’s backyard, looking for any signs of agricultural activity. All of the findings were be cooked and presented, merely for display purposes. In collaboration with archaeologist and Egyptologist Salima Ikram.

During the last decade, food has been a main concern for Egyptians. Once known as the “food reserve of the Roman Empire,” Egypt is now among the biggest importers of grain, especially wheat.

Until the middle of the 20th century, Egypt was an international major agricultural producer, its domestic production feeding almost 100 per cent of its population. This high level of self-sufficiency started to crumble down at the beginning in the 1970s-1980s, with the application of new policies on agriculture and development. This situation continued worsening to finally collapse in the Food Crisis of 2008. As a matter of fact, lack of food was a fundamental driving force of the Revolution of January 2011.

 

 

From then on, Cairo’s suburban areas have experienced a fast and incontrollable growth, which has transformed large areas of fertile soil into constructed, paved land, thus increasing even further self-sufficiency problems.

These illegally constructed neighbourhoods, with no urban planning or public infrastructures, are popularly known as “Ashguahiyat,” a term meaning “leaving things to chance”.

 

 

Paradoxically, the inhabitants of these Ashguahiyats are mainly peasants who have been dispossessed of their land or unable to sustain themselves with its produces. These circumstances force them to migrate to big urban centres, where they are hired as construction workers.

 

 

This project is based in one of these “informal” neighbourhoods or
Ashguahiyats: Ard El Lewa located northeast of Giza.

Ard El Lewa means “the general’s land”.

 

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