William Wells is Founder and Director of Cairo’s iconic art institution, Townhouse a project partner of the Edgware Road Project. He was in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects to discuss how Townhouse, its artists, the community around the gallery and Egypt’s art scene more generally, have reacted and adapted since the events of January 2011.
As the political and social landscape continues to evolve on the city streets – if not on international news screens – creativity in the capital is flourishing, finding ways to survive in the most challenging of circumstances.
Townhouse is a nonprofit art space situated in the heart of Downtown Cairo. It holds an iconic position in the story of contemporary art in the Middle East; a key driver behind what has become a culturally rich, regional art scene. Established in 1998, Townhouse has initiated a breadth of activities in its various spaces: key regional symposia, meaningful community outreach, landmark exhibitions, and international residencies for artists, curators, writers, and filmmakers. It has also incubated several important art spaces within Cairo that have gone on to impact the cultural landscape. On an individual level, the gallery has played a pivotal role in the careers of internationally renowned artists and hosted a number of influential practitioners and curators from abroad.
Although Townhouse remains a crucial platform for the visual art scene, it has evolved far beyond this linear mission. Most notably, the newly refurbished Rawabet space offers a platform to independent performers artists of all genres. Alongside its own programming, the space also acts as a venue to host programs curated by other institutions. The Townhouse Library is home to cultural salons for conversation, curated film screenings and a growing archive, emphasizing the significance of discourse dissemination and the documentation of the undertakings of contemporary art in Cairo. An open-door policy has allowed cultural activists across all creative media to find an avenue of support for their projects, ideas and experiments. The institution collaborates with a range of artists and institutions in every aspect of its work, aiming to contribute to a comprehensive network in the local, regional and international arts community.
William Wells is co-founder and director of one of the most innovative art spaces in the Middle East region, the nonprofit Townhouse Gallery of contemporary art in Cairo, established in 1998. Under Wells’ guidance, Townhouse has played a pivotal role in nurturing creative talent in the region, supporting artists who have gone off to attain significant success and visibility abroad (including Wael Shawky, Hassan Khan, Iman Issa, Basim Magdy, Susan Hefuna and Lara Baladi) while also serving as an incubator and support for a number of non-profit spaces that have opened in Egypt in the last decade. Over the past 17 years, and ever adapting to changing socio-political circumstances, the gallery has grown from two floors in a downtown building to encompass a large Factory space, library, one of the only independent performance space in Cairo, artist studios and most recently Townhouse West, a gallery in one of Cairo’s new towns. Wells has served on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Advisory Committee, is Advisor to the Fulbright scholarship in Egypt and sits on the board of the Foundation for Arts Initiatives (FfAI).