Egypt: Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery to reopen under strict restrictions

17 February 2016


Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery has reopened for two weeks to allow staff to make necessary changes to various permits and regulations  after having been closed for two months by Egyptian authorities for what they listed as “administrative irregularities”, reported Ahram Online on 16 February 2016. 

Gallery director William Wells is seeking to reopen the gallery to the public next month (March 2016), but the gallery and its staff are facing “unprecedented censorship”, he told The Guardian in an article on 22 February 2016. In the two weeks in which they have been allowed to open, Wells said that they must “comply with new legal restrictions, some of which amounted to state control of its work”.

“You have to submit what it is you’re going to hold a workshop on, what the discussion will be about – ultimately we’re looking at forms of control,” Wells said. “It’s a matter of being able to control the activities and programming that take place – music, performance, talks, visual art.”

Other new legal requirements being imposed upon the Townhouse Gallery will be cost-prohibitive for the gallery to continue its operations. One such requirement is the installation of fire sprinklers in all five of the gallery’s buildings – a health and safety requirement that is not even a requirement for government buildings, or any other buildings except five-star hotels.

Further, according to Wells, the government has not fully informed the gallery of all the new regulations and license amendments being imposed.

Wells has asked for more time to comply with these new regulations in the hopes they can reopen by the end of March.

Gallery shut down
On 28 December 2015, the gallery was closed following an inspection from the local municipality, the Censorship Authority and the Tax Authority.

The Townhouse Gallery administration has since communicated with several different authorities, including the local municipality, the Censorship Authority, and the office responsible for artistic licensing. On 15 February 2016, the gallery was allowed to open for 15 days, during which time inspections are to be held in order to decide what is missing from the space and how it will need to comply with new terms.

One case 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,” Yasser Gerab, Townhouse’s outreach director told Ahram Online, pointing to the fact that the CDs have not been distributed.

Ahram Online described Townhouse Gallery as “a highly respected Cairo-based art space and a frontrunner in Egypt’s independent cultural movement, operating since 1998. During 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.”

* Updated on 23 February 2016


» The Guardian – 22 February 2016:
Cairo gallery bemoans unprecedented censorship as it prepares to reopen

» Artnet News – 22 February 2016:
Egypt imposes draconian conditions on Cairo art non-profit to allow its reopening

» Ahram Online – 16 February 2016:
Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery reopens, challenges prevail

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