Closed by authorities, Cairo Townhouse gallery's fate remains unknown

Ahram Online , Friday 22 Jan 2016

The arts space remains closed after a surprise inspection was carried out by a number of state authorities in December 2015

Townhouse Gallery
Townhouse Library, Townhouse Gallery and Rawabet Theatre were closed by administrative authorities on Monday 28 December 2015. (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

In a statement published on its official Facebook page Wednesday, 20 January, Cairo's Townhouse gallery announced that attempts to reopen the venue remain hampered following an inspection carried out by local authorities in December 2015, which left the popular art space closed until further notice.

The inspection of Townhouse gallery was conducted by the local municipality, the Censorship Authority, and the Tax Authority and was then shut down despite the fact that the gallery was not shown to have committed any permit, tax, or municipal violations.

Townhouse’s Facebook statement opened by asserting that following the December inspection, the gallery’s legal consultant has been communicating with the local municipality and other state bodies to resolve the matter.

“Each [state] body denied its issuance of any decision that led to the closure, with each body stating that it isn't tasked with issuing such decisions” and confirming that “the [local] municipality is behind the closure.”

On 3 January, the Townhouse team presented a memorandum to Minister of Culture Helmy El-Namnam, “explaining the situation and requesting his help as the [head of the] ministry tasked with supporting cultural spaces in Egypt.” The team has yet to receive a reply.

The Townhouse team approached the General Authority for Artistic Permits in an attempt to retrieve the gallery’s permits, valid until October 2016, which were confiscated during the inspection. The team has also not received a reply regarding this request.

Parallel to these attempts, the Townhouse team submitted a request to the Civil Defense authority to “conduct an inspection of Rawabet Theatre and check if the place meets the requirements set by them” in order for the Townhouse team to find out whether “there were any remaining requirements to meet.”

On the day of this requested inspection, and as police officers from the Civil Defense were in front of Townhouse's headquarters, “the head of the municipality did not take any of the [Townhouse team's] phone calls, hampering the possibility of inspecting the area.”

The team also submitted a request to the head of the municipality asking him to "temporarily re-open the space until other requirements set by any administrative body were met,” which is a “legal right.” No response has been given.

Commenting on the issue, Yasser Gerab, Townhouse’s outreach director, told Ahram Online on Thursday that “we have yet to receive any explanation from any specific state body outlining the reason behind the closure and the state body that requested the closure” and as such, "we are still waiting for the municipality’s official response to that [matter].”

“As a company, we approached the municipality years ago to obtain the necessary permits but were told the company’s activity was not subject to permits issued by the municipality [and that] the permits issued by the Ministry of Culture’s general authority we had obtained in 2003 were enough," he explained. 

Responding to whether the delay in re-opening the space was due to bureaucratic impediments, Gerab said, “I believe administrative bodies are confused, which renders their performance ambiguous and unclear." The impediments might also be a result of "exaggerated activity on the part of these administrative bodies," he added. 

“[This is a result of] confusion coupled with the lack of appropriate mechanisms to deal with a space that has always embraced culture and arts,” Gerab asserted.

Gerab also asserted that “we announced our utmost readiness to complete any new procedures or meet any new requirements," in an attempt to secure "the continuity of Townhouse,” which was founded in 1998. 

“We’ve always respected the law,” he added. 

Townhouse Gallery is a highly respected Cairo-based art space and frontrunner in Egypt’s independent cultural movement, operating since 1998.

During these 17 years, it has challenged and changed Cairo’s art scene, acting as a catalyst that inspired a movement of artists willing to redefine the meaning of contemporary art, and encouraged the rise of more art spaces in Cairo. 

For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture

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