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The Mosaic Rooms opens a retrospective of the renowned Townhouse Gallery in Cairo
From the series, ‘Surface of Time,’ by Lara Baladi. Photography. Permanent prints on somerset paper laminated onto aluminum. Cairo, Egypt, 2008.

LONDON.- To celebrate the organisation’s 10th anniversary this year, The Mosaic Rooms present an ambitious programme of exhibitions and events running from spring 2018 to autumn 2019. Opening its doors to artists, writers and thinkers from the Arab world and Iran and showcasing artworks unseen in the UK, this season offers audiences an exceptional insight into overlooked aspects of the region’s rich art and culture.

“What do you mean, here we are?” (6 July – 15 September 2018) is a retrospective of the renowned Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, Egypt. Founded in 1998, Townhouse emerged onto a scene dominated by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and its private affiliates. As one of the first independent art spaces in Cairo, Townhouse has borne witness to an unusual and intriguing trajectory.

Through a series of visual, video material and sound art as well as pamphlets, catalogues and ephemera, the exhibition at The Mosaic Rooms tells the story of Townhouse’s evolution from a modest start in the backstreets of Downtown Cairo to its emergence at the centre of the regional art scene, and further across more recent periods of turmoil and re-configuration. “What do you mean, here we are?” will feature works by artists including Doa Aly, Lara Baladi, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Mona Hatoum, Nermine Hammam, Susan Hefuna, Amal Kenawy, Khaled Kaddal, Huda Lutfi, Basim Magdy, Shady El Noshokaty, Wouter Osterholt and Elke Uitentuis, Ayman Ramadan, Mohamed Sharkawy, Wael Shawky and Malak Yacout.

Even as it has grown to become one of the important actors in the regional and global arts scenes, Townhouse remains defined by its immediate surroundings: a diverse cluster of incongruent styles and histories, amid car mechanics’ garages, coffee shops, greengrocers, carpenters, and a nineteenth-century Ottoman palace. Artists, musicians, and writers gravitated to this alleyway tucked in the backstreets of Downtown Cairo. An outreach programme for street children and refugees and an adjunct theatre space have created an environment that responds directly to neighbourhood needs and incubates performers both locally and internationally. The practices that have emerged over Townhouse’s long history are varied: unorthodox and unapologetic, by turns strident and delicate, often intimate, and always inventive.

“What do you mean, here we are?” raises larger questions about cultural production and artistic practice in capricious socio-political climates. It takes the story of Townhouse to London to create a platform to examine contemporary art frameworks and to speak candidly about the challenges faced by independent institutions operating under censorship. Taken from an interview with Townhouse’s co-founder and director William Wells, the phrase “What do you mean, here we are?” alludes to Townhouse’s dogged persistence over two decades of exceptional circumstances: prosperity, turbulence, and continued transformation. What results is at once an excavation of the past and a sort of untraditional biography of several generations of artists and artworks that are so often presented dislodged from their contexts. This retrospective provides a critical opportunity to reflect on twenty whirlwind years as Townhouse forges forward to the future.

“What do you mean, here we are?” is co-curated by Mariam Elnozahy and Fiona Fox.

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