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I cook, therefore I am. A culinary journey with Abdelkader benali

10 February through 30 July 2017

From Friday 10 February 2017, the Wereldmuseum presents the exhibition I cook, therefore I am. A culinary tale by Abdelkader Benali. Rotterdam is the perfect stage for this: a world city with a rich and unrivalled diversity of food cultures. With an intriguing and impressive selection from the museum collection, supplemented with exceptional pieces on loan, writer and historian Abdelkader Benali and art historian Alexandra van Dongen present the story of the role of food in our earthly existence.

Our relationship with food is surrounded by rituals, social conventions, taboos, and prescriptions laid down in our contemporary cooking and food cultures. Culinary secrets from Rotterdam and the rest of the world reveal the social and cultural significance of cooking and meals, as well as the dynamic migration of food, people, and objects. I cook, therefore I am is a little different from most exhibitions. It is a voyage of discovery through four thousand years of civilization all over the world, from Baghdad to Peru and from Tokyo to Rotterdam.

The Wereldmuseum's collection takes centre stage in this exhibition. In the museum repository, Abdelkader selected one of the most striking objects from the collection: the yam house, originating from Olivilevi, a village on the Trobriand Islands. Following the restoration, made possible by the Mondriaan Fonds (Mondriaan Fund), the yam house can now be seen at the Wereldmuseum for the first time. A very special gift has also been given by the visual artist and filmmaker Roy Villevoye, comprising a ceremonial sago larvae trough and bags originating from the Asmat people, now on show for the first time in the museum. Benali and Van Dongen selected a large variety of objects from the collection that bring us in contact with what we are in essence: cooking beings. We steam, stew, roast, fry, and grill, and we share this with each other in all manner of forms. We eat alone, at the table, standing, in the street, at parties, and with the family.

Three clay tablets from Mesopotamia dating from the year 2000 BC, the oldest written culinary resource in the world, are presented in a very special manner. Thanks to a unique collaboration with Yale University (Yale Babylonian Collection), the designer Maaike Roozenburg was able to work alongside the TU Delft to reproduce these fragile clay tablets for the exhibition. Using these ‘smart replicas’, we will be searching for traces of four-thousand-year-old recipes passed down through the generations in the cooking culture of today's residents of Rotterdam.

A variety of museum organizations have provided objects on loan, adding essential pieces to the exhibition: Mesopotamian cooking utensils (Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University), a nineteenth-century Dutch toy kitchen (Museum Rotterdam), The Pancake Woman, by Rembrandt van Rijn (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen), the oldest cooking pot in the city of Rotterdam (Bureau Oudheidkundig Onderzoek Rotterdam), a Chinese cooking god (Nationaal Museum voor Wereldculturen) and historical cookery books from the collection of the University of Amsterdam (Special Collections). In addition, a number of Rotterdam residents have also put their personal culinary objects on display. The public is also invited to share their kitchen secrets at kitchen tables in the exhibition.

Education & events
The Wereldmuseum is organizing an extensive education programme alongside I cook, therefore I am. Unique dishes can be tasted in a specially set-up Taste Studio (Smaakstudio) on the ground floor. The activities form part of a study of Byzantine and Ottoman culinary traditions, presented by students from the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University, led by Dr Joanita Vroom, in cooperation with Verhalenhuis Belvédère, the house of intangible heritage.

Abdelkader Benali provides a variety of guided tours, there are workshops on the table manners of the sixteenth century, and there are lectures by specialists from various disciplines such as archaeology, art history, and literature. Together with the Alliantie West-Kruiskade, we organize Street Food tours and special guests come along regularly to talk about their own food culture.

Cookery notebook
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication in the form of a cookery notebook with a wide variety of short articles, interviews with interesting figures, and extensive information about the objects. It contains numerous recipes, including an eighteenth-century apple pie from Rotterdam and sago larvae as enjoyed by the Asmat people, and there is space to add your own recipes.


Note to editorial staff:
If you are interested in an interview, high-resolution images, or more information about the exhibition, please contact the Wereldmuseum by calling: +31 (0)10-270 71 26 or by sending an e-mail to: communicatie@wereldmuseum.nl. Please let us know if and when you will be publishing information about the exhibition. 


I cook, therefore I am was made possible thanks to a project contribution from the Stichting Bevordering van Volkskracht and the Municipality of Rotterdam.

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