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Supermarket of Equality, 2020, Inkjet on Museo Max. 100 x 150 cm (series of 5).

Food as a signifier for communal human consumption and the global distribution of resources is an ongoing preoccupation of Basir Mahmood’s practice. How do humans interact and share? Mahmood began considering the aesthetic implications of questions surrounding parity when he began to live between Amsterdam and Lahore; two societies with very different access to and relationships with consumable goods. In all of Mahmood’s work, the precise composition of his image-making is girded by a complex armature of process. As in the international system of food production and distribution, so too is there an entire ecosystem of intensions and decisions contributing to Supermarket of Equality.

Staged and then documented in the construction site of a new grocery store, each photograph depicts standard consumer product display furniture—made out of the same material that forms the walls of the building—laden with familiar goods including produce, candy, bottled drinks, meat and fish. Each individual item is cut precisely in half, in a meticulous gesture of repetition signaling the automation inherent to production and consumption of industrialized food. Mahmood’s intension, however, is to manifest an ideological experiment in which the world’s ample resources are distributed equally. This focus on balance is echoed throughout the geometric symmetry of each composition and the single-point perspectival position of the camera.

What would it look like if the same attention to symmetry was shown to the lives of objects produced (and indeed the lives they sustain) as to the equilibrium of economic systems such as supply and demand schedules? Mahmood purchased all the pictured food from small local grocery stores, consulted their employees on the arrangements and attempted to redistribute the leftover food to those who had helped make the work. Some spoiled and much of it bisected beyond edibility, the ideological gesture of the Supermarket of Equality becomes as impossible to manifest as capitalism’s false promise of equal supply for equal demand.  

(text by Lauren Wetmore)

Funded by Mondriaan Fonds.

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