In many international cities, established art spaces are usually located in high-class neighbourhoods and boast a rich clientele. Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art goes strongly against that grain; situated in a Downtown automobile district and showcasing talented local and international art for the masses.
Opened in 1998, Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art has made its name over the past decade as the most active independent arts space in Cairo. Not only does Townhouse exhibit some of Cairo’s most talented local artists, the gallery also encourages the Cairo community to make art and explore their creative side by participating in their workshops.
In recent years, Townhouse has exposed Cairo to some very cool projects, including Breaking Boredom, an exhibit organised by Ahmed Foula featuring Cairo’s hottest up-and-coming graphic designers, including artists like George Azmy, Mahmoud Hamdy and Ganzeer. In 2009, Townhouse created a Model Citizens installation, which was a collaboration of over a dozen artists that worked with over 10,000 photos of Townhouse’s neighbourhood to create an extremely detailed miniature model of the neighbourhood. Narratives on the neighbourhood’s history and what changes the community would like to see were documented.
In 2010, Townhouse uncovered an era of Egyptian art history that most Cairenes had never heard of, which is the Egyptian Surrealist Movement. Organised in the style of a ’happening,’ the exhibit aimed to present the work of the Egyptian Surrealists, or the Art and Freedom Group, as they called themselves, in a way than honours their attitude towards art and life.
The main spaces used for Townhouse exhibits are the Factory Space and the First Floor Gallery. The Factory Space is affectionately named so because it was once a paper factory before Townhouse acquired it in 2002, and it is the large ground-floor space next to the gift shop. The first-floor gallery is the first floor of the building on Nabarawy Street , which holds the Townhouse sign. The second floor of the same building holds the Townhouse library, which hosts occasional lectures and film screenings, as well as studios for local and international artists.
The Rooftop Studio, an initiative that Townhouse launched in 2009, is an artist-managed studio space on a rooftop located on Nubar Street in Downtown Cairo that gives local artists a space to develop personal projects. By creating a communal space for local artists, artists get feedback from the public and fellow artists from different backgrounds. Visitors are welcome at the Rooftop to discuss personal art with the artists.
Townhouse is not only a gallery; it’s an art collective that cares about the social conditions of the community. Every Friday, Townhouse holds workshops for working children who often work most of the week to support their families and receive little education. The Friday workshops allow children to explore their creative side and interact with peers.
Every Saturday, Townhouse holds workshops sponsored by SAWA in the Factory Space which are open to anyone looking to explore individual artistic interests. Sometimes there is a set theme, and some raw materials like flexible wire and charcoal are supplied for free. Most of the time, there’s just loads of paper, pencil and paints for free use. Even some famous local artists show up at the workshops; creating a very positive environment for both the established and the amateur artist. Participating in Townhouse’s SAWA workshops is a great way to become acquainted with the Cairene art community.
Located in a busy quarter off Champollion Street, Townhouse stands at the intersection of two small side streets. If walking on Champollion Street away from Tahrir Square, take the right before the kofta eatery Abu Khaled. Ahead, there’s Ahwa Taka’eeba, a street café serving shisha, juice and tea. Walk past the ahwa; and you’ll see the Townhouse Gallery sign.
Although there has some harsh criticism about the originality of some of its exhibits, Townhouse Gallery has successfully influenced the way art is represented in Cairo, and continues to keep the Capital on the pulse of the contemporary international art community.
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