The world is not the same world it was when I started making this show. Four years on, a pandemic and a series of world-shaking political events later, I am now grappling with what it is that connects this piece to this world, to this moment, and why you, the audience, should care.
On a lunch break in 2017, I read an article on the crisis in Syria, about the targeted attacks on bakeries by the government and the rebels, and the subsequent scarcity and hunger that followed. The systematic bombing of bakeries from both sides as a warfare tactic turned the simple necessity of bread into a weapon of power, a tool of control. The images of bread in the article were identical to the Egyptian bread I’d grown up with, so were the descriptions of its cultural significance. There’s a Western view surrounding Middle Eastern politics that it’s too complicated to get involved in, too difficult to understand, but there’s something about seeing this devastating war reduced to bread that made it make sense.
As a performance maker, the first question asked of you is why are YOU making this piece? Especially with political performance, your position as a maker outside the conflict cannot be ignored. So I began researching the history of bread, discovering that bread was first made in Ancient Egypt, and that incidentally, the first recorded workers strike in history began there too. This process uncovered a long history of suppressed uprisings in Egyptian history that I was only now learning about.
I didn’t see the 2011 Revolution coming. I’d seen the poverty of the country and the corruption of the Egyptian government, but what I’d failed to see was the power of its people. The more I read about Egypt’s history of protest, the more it became clear that it was a fundamental and deeply rooted reaction to injustice and oppression. A decade on, the revolution didn’t fix Egypt, but it started a culture of social action, empowered people, and as a result, conversations around feminism and human rights issues that have never been addressed are now in the public foreground.
What began as a performative exploration around a history of protesting bread has become inseparable from the current political climate. I’ve gone from viewing the 2011 Revolution as a past event to understanding that it is a living history, that the discourse of freedom in Egypt is still growing, that the prisoners of the revolution are still imprisoned, that these protests which I believed to be separate entities were actually a continuation of each other.
As I’m writing this, hundreds of thousands of people over the world are protesting the war in Ukraine. In the UK, members of parliament are currently negotiating our right to protest, to make noise, to stand against, to mark our presence as political. In this changing world, the need for protests, their function in negotiating social contracts, is as necessary and as universal as bread itself.