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Mathaf al Zar'i al A'lamy

EGYPT | Wednesday, 15 December 2010 | Views [742]

The Egyptian Museum of Agriculture* - Mathaf al Za'ri al Masri – was built in 1934 and has ever descended thereafter into a twilight gloom of dust and neglect. These days it is a museum piece in itself. Display cases emptied by the slow actions of insects. Models, built in Cologne before the Second World War, hidden behind smudged glass. Signage made incomplete by blossoms of mould. Rooms increasingly locked and closed.

It is this perfect artefact, this cabinet of wonders, that the Spanish artist Asunción Molinos Gordo has rebuilt – restaged even – on the third floor of a Downtown apartment block. While updating some of the data [nothing much in the original museum dates past the 1950s] the aesthetics are precisely transposed. Once again the dark wood panels, the wax model fruits, the jars of badly labelled seeds. Between each rooms are signs painted with the same superb calligraphy, the same cack handed paintings of peasants tilling fields. Mothballs, dust, and ersatz decay.

But whereas the first museum celebrates an age of agricultural plenty that never arrived its facsimile is darker indeed. Excerpts [in Arabic and English] from contracts governing the use of patented plant material. The likelihood of the Norwegian seed bank, built below frozen ground on the edge of the North Pole, surviving a nuclear strike. Percentages of African territory given over to agrifuel. Charts notating the declining levels of agricultural diversity and the reasons for the fall. Number one: substitution of local varieties. Number two: urbanisation.

One horrific room shows the foods exported by Haiti. Colourful wax models of watermelon, oranges, sweet potato, maize. All the bounty of an island in the fertile tropics. Behind smudged glass in the corner is something else. A bottle of oil. A handful of salt. Lumps of clay. On the shelf below are flat cakes made from the mixture of these ingredients. Hardly visible the label 'what Haiti eats'.

As with the other museum half the rooms are locked, signs pointing optimistically towards answers that are never given. There is fury here, but so well marshalled, so tightly contained within the precise aesthetic of sign and label and jar. Held as a thin high scream between charts showing hunger, production, and distribution.

Asunción Molinos Gordo
World Agriculture Musuem
13 December 2010 to 25 January 2011
22 Abdel Khalek Tharwat St Downtown Cairo

* see also 'United Republic' http://journals.worldnomads.com/damonlk/story/66486/Egypt/United-Republic

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