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Can Artistic Practices Negotiate the Demands of Cultural Institutions, Public Space, and Civil Society?

William Wells, Townhouse Gallery, Cairo
2 May 2012

Since the 25th of January 2011, a traditional arts programming model has become functionally irrelevant in Egypt. In this context of conflict and change, diverse publics have asked to use Townhouse's spaces in ways that extend far beyond the scope of visual arts exhibitions. Consequently, over the past year, we have focused on initiating and supporting projects that respond to these calls for a critical space for reflection, discussion, and engagement with contemporary social issues.


We remain committed to our mandate of supporting local and regional contemporary arts, but have adopted a flexible, highly responsive curatorial programme that lets us respond to current events. In terms of exhibitions, this has meant opening our spaces to often participatory experiments that do not centre around art objects but rather invite discussion on topical issues – as with The Politics of Representation, an attempt to create a living archive of printed ephemera from Egypt's parliamentary elections that was housed in our first-floor gallery space. Townhouse has also launched initiatives like 'The Workshop Series', a programme of four nine-month long seminars that focus on human rights and social justice, while asking how arts and culture can positively engage in contemporary socio-political issues.


It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict how the social and political landscape in the region will evolve over the coming months (and years). It is certain, though, that Townhouse and other art spaces will need to continue negotiating the relationship between our curatorial models and the evolving needs and desires of local artists and the wider community as well.

William Wells

is the co-founder of Townhouse Gallery in Cairo.

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