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What is the future of arts infrastructures and audiences across North Africa and the Middle East?

Asunción Molinos Gordo
8 May 2014

The future of art infrastructures in the region is still very much determined by pre-existing cultural misconceptions applied to audiences.


During the last four years in Cairo, I've witnessed in several occasions how part of the audience has been marginalized according to nationality, class, race or economic income. Both scenarios described below can bring images to my words.


Back in February 2010, I visited the Agriculture Museum in Cairo, an institution created in 1938 with an objective to facilitate an intellectual encounter between Egyptian citizens and the agricultural data of their country. Together with the Spanish curator Laura Carderera (both of us foreign), we were kindly invited to see one of the many buildings that are closed to the public. While we were inside the exhibition, the doors of the building were left open and an Egyptian father, modestly dressed, with his two young daughters, entered the space and joined us on the improvised tour. We were not even two minutes into the formal introduction to the exhibit when our host started literally yelling at the father until he managed to kick him out of the exhibition space, along with his young family, arguing that this was not a place for them.


On a second occasion, together with the Egyptian artist Osama Dawod, we visited the Cairo Biennale at the Opera House complex. Right at the entrance, Osama, as an Egyptian citizen, was asked to leave his ID card in the hands of the security during the entire length of our visit to the exhibit and to sign a paper saying that if anything happened to me or if I broke something he would be held accountable. After a long argument with the institution officials, we left the venue and in a nearby coffee shop Dawod further explained in detail the situation, pointing at the different forms of apartheid that exist in Egypt.


Those of you who are familiar with what I am trying to say here, will argue that these examples only describe the psychology of government-run institutions, but the independent art scene has a different modus operandi. This is entirely true  nobody will ask you to leave your ID card at the door of an independent gallery while you conduct a visit, and of course no representative of an independent art space would boot out a father with his two young daughters from the premises.


Nevertheless, on very few occasions would this father and his family be able to find a independent art space in the city and even if, by chance, they lived right next to one they most likely wouldn't know what its function was and, even less, feel invited, welcome, or confident enough to step foot in the place.


The way in which I like to think about the future of art infrastructures in the Middle East and North Africa is no different to the way I like to think about the future of art infrastructures in general, since these challenges are shared internationally.


A future worth thinking about is one where cultural institutions of all kinds understand that accessibility is mandatory where culture is produced and shared, acknowledging the basic right to cultural education for every member of society. Most importantly, the future I imagine is one where the audience is not marginalized using the categories of 'educated' and 'uneducated' – a softer form of segregation that engages with prejudices based on nationality, class, race, and level of formal education or economic income.


Being a general concern, many individuals within art institutions along with practitioners are joining in the effort to collectively bridge audiences to centres and spaces, so as to create stronger networks to reach out to audiences. The main objective and the larger challenge in such a concern is to dismantle the historical misinterpretation of what culture is and for whom it exists.

Asunción Molinos Gordo

is an artist and independent researcher. Her work focuses on the rural sphere and the socio-cultural implications of agriculture. She employs installation, photography, sound and other media to explore issues of peasantry from a trans-national approach. Molinos obtained her B.A. in Fine Arts from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, from where she also received her Master in Contemporary Art Theory and Practice. Her projects have been shown in Europe and Middle East at venues including Delfina Foundation, Darat Al Funun, The Townhosue Gallery, La Casa Encendida, Museo Patio Herreriano, CAB, La Fábrica and Arnolfini Art Centre. She currently lives and works between Cairo, Muscat and her hometown in Spain, Guzmán.

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