Cairo's Townhouse Gallery reopens, challenges prevail

Ahram Online , Tuesday 16 Feb 2016

The space was closed for two months by Egyptian authorities for what they listed as 'administrative irregularities'

townhouse Library
Townhouse Gallery (Photo: The Townhouse Gallery website)

Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery reopened its doors on Monday after being closed in late December following an inspection from the local municipality, the Censorship Authority and the Tax Authority, who said that the art space had administrative irregularities.

However, despite reopening, the space is still facing challenges from administrative entities.

“Since 28 December up until yesterday, we have been going around in circles,” Yasser Gerab, Townhouse’s outreach director told Ahram Online.

“It started with no one telling us who is responsible and who to approach, and a lack of clarity with what was being asked of us, although we have our papers and licenses ready.”

“Only recently, in February, did the local municipality begin cooperating, and it allowed us to open for 15 days, during which time inspections will be held to decide what is missing from the space and how we will need to comply with their new terms.”

Gerab explained that these regulations are new and that Townhouse has been in communication with several different authorities, including the local municipality, the Censorship Authority, and the office responsible for artistic licensing.

“We’ve been working with these same entities since 2003 and acquired our licenses under them but they changed their terms without notifying us and now we have been asked to acquire new and different licenses,” he said.

He recounts that these entities have filed four cases against Townhouse.

One of the cases concerns a CD documenting one of the workshops held at Townhouse, and others that hold the documentation of art projects that are used in applications.

“We are told that it is not a licensed film. But it’s natural that we will be documenting our own initiatives, and some of the CDs hold projects that were submitted for us to see as part of the application. The way we are using these films should not require licensing,” he says, pointing to the fact that the CDs have not been distributed.

“We will try to better understand what they want and fulfill it. We respect the law, and this is how we’ve been operating for 17 years. Even if their laws are vague we will try to do what they want,” Gerab said.

According to Gerab, in the light of other cultural spaces facing similar problems with the state, the focus now should shift to cooperation.

“We want to cooperate with all cultural bodies, to have spaces and activities that function in harmony to feed the cultural scene in Egypt.

“There should be clear laws and regulations for cultural bodies to operate safely as independent spaces,” Gerab commented. 

On 28 December 2015, Townhouse was surprised by an inspection by several different agencies, eventually leading to the closure of the popular art venue until further notice.

Townhouse West, the Sheikh Zayed branch of Townhouse, remained open.

Townhouse Gallery is a highly respected Cairo-based art space and a 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.

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