William Wells on Townhouse, Cairo at The Serpentine

download (2)William Wells and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Townhouse est 1998:

    • In 6th October City – newly developed creative district, Cairo
    • Linked to Edgware Road Project
    • Government of Egypt neglected cultural schemes as concerned with political extremism (1997)
    • Opened in one building in working class signmakers/glassworks district, soon grew to 3 buildings
    • Very much a masculine area of drugs/prostitution
    • Community accepted as art space as interacted and made use of local skills, Townhouse paid their wages in the local currency and legalised ‘coffeeshops’ (shisha/’second wives’)
    • Importance of the street – space for conversation, relationships
    • No local art history library, Townhouse opened up and has developed now over the last decade
    • As women not able to come into area, they were interviewed by Susan of Townhouse to see if they were benefiting from the project which, economically, their families were
  • 2009 Townhouse activities began to be closed down:
    • Silence of the Lambs performance, 2009, closed after 8 minutes, Complaints Choir 2010 closed down after 3 hours
    • Finally in 2010 Townhouse were told that no more arts activity could take place (heightened political tensions had been rising, and the musical and theatre events were becoming more aggressive and political)
  • 2011 18 days of violent uprising in the streets of Cairo – gallery under lockdown
  • Post-uprising, Townhouse a refuge for men and women artists who felt the need to make work due to recent histories – vendors became performers etc., creative energy strong
  • Severe corruption political post-2011 events and current Cairo is incredibly suppressive with a regime in control which has support of the Republic (neighbours can report on one another via telephone numbers advertised on TV)
  • Past 2 years, many established artists have left Cairo due to this censorship – either abroad or to the outskirts, from which they have no influence on emerging artistic community in Cairo
  • Artists that have graduated after 2011 based in Cairo are producing introspective works now which explore their private space, are voyeuristic and seen as exploitative of their family or home situation as they are non-censored views of this daily life

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