“Our Daily Bread” and Brazil

Anna Bella Geiger, “Our Daily Bread (O Pão Nosso de Cada Dia),” 1978. Six postcards and screenprint on paper bag mounted on card. Tate Modern

I recently returned from helping to co-lead a study abroad program in London. Our group visited the Tate Modern and I became familiar with Anna Bella Geiger’s work, Our Daily Bread (O Pão Nosso de Cada Dia). The postcards on display in the museum document a performance in which Geiger ate bread to highlight the poverty in Brazil, as well as South America. The holes in the bread depict the outline of Brazil and South America, in addition to the outlines on the empty bread basket.

I’m struck by the title, which references the Lord’s Prayer from the Bible (“Give us this day our daily bread”). It evokes the strong Catholic presence in Brazil, which has roots in the colonial period and the evangelization efforts of missionaries. Geiger has explained how she was influenced by the Jesuit’s “systems” in teaching Native people about Catholicism, and I think that the visual example paired with Christian text ties into the system that she is referencing.

As discussed in this video, Geiger’s work often uses the imagery of cartography with untraditional artistic mediums to suggest a disconnect between belonging and not belonging to something. I think there is a disconnect suggested between how Christianity and its “daily bread” prayer are often seen as a part of Brazilian identity, but poverty and hunger is also very much a part of Brazilian identity too.

Ironically, bread-made-from-wheat was not always associated with Brazil. Ana Carolina de Carvalho Viotti has written about how manioc was nicknamed “bread of Brazil” in the colonial period. And the maps of the colonial period include imagery of brazilwood or sugarcane as the key exports that impacted the country’s identity. It was much later when wheat production began in Brazil, not until in 1919. Production has increased over the past hundred years and right now Brazil is on target to have a record wheat crop this year. It seems like the meanings of Our Daily Bread is changing in some ways, with this rise of wheat and its potential economic impact, although poverty in the country is still a major concern. Ironically, the record wheat crop in Brazil has been pitched as a way to end the wheat shortages in the world as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, so perhaps Geiger’s image of the country of Brazil now expresses solution to help combat hunger elsewhere in the world.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.