With Passover just around the corner, one Philadelphia artist has a new take on the holiday’s staple food — matzo.
Walk into Germantown’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery and you’ll be met with 1,200 square feet of floor-to-ceiling matzo. It’s Rephael Epstein’s tribute to the holiday.
The exhibit uses over 300 boxes of matzo, all donated by New York-based Streit’s Matzos.
In addition to wall-to-wall matzo, the exhibit, titled “Into the Desert” will feature two, six-and-a-half foot tall matzo towers — one representing smoke and one representing fire. The floors at iMPeRFeCT will be covered in two inches of sand.
The display is more than just a quirky way to celebrate one of Epstein’s favorite holidays. After years of struggling with substance abuse and finally getting clean at the age of 40, the now 63-year-old likens his journey to that of the Israelites.
“The Jewish people wandered for 40 years in the desert and actually I got clean when I was 40,” he said. “I sort of wandered in the desert for 40 years like the Jews. So it’s a very personal statement about freedom.”
“I get to express it through this gift of making art that has been given to me by some power greater than myself,” he added.
Epstein is hoping to bring something unexpected to people who come in to see the show.
“My favorite thing is to be surprised, I like to be surrounded by materials and the materials sort of speak to me, and speak to each other and they just combine in ways that I find curious and amazing and different,” he said.
Pasting matzo to the walls of the gallery requires more than just the handiwork of Epstein, so he posted an ad on Craigslist inviting community members to come help him out.
The compensation? Just some free matzo.
Local artist Judy Levin responded to the ad, showing up on the first day of installation.
“I enjoy matzo very much. This is delicious food. I don’t just enjoy it for Passover, I enjoy it year ’round and this is a different way to enjoy it, adhering it to the wall,” she said.
Of course, all that gluing comes with its own set of challenges. At one point, Epstein found himself crunching away at the matzo when he encountered an electrical outlet he needed to work around.
“You can’t really cut [matzo] with traditional tools. I find that my teeth and my thumbnail are pretty effective,” he said.
Renny Molenaar, one of owners of iMPeRFeCT, has one piece of advice if you visit the gallery: “No eating the artwork.”
“Into the Desert” opens at iMPeRFeCT Gallery in Germantown on Saturday and will run until April 11, when Epstein and the gallery owners will invite the community to a “Last Supper” to celebrate the end of the show’s run.