Wednesday Wagbas, a new initiative at the Townhouse Gallery, is aiming to give funding to artists for new projects at a time of increasing uncertainty in the Egyptian visual art scene.
The idea is to raise funds through public dinners by allowing diners to learn about the art projects they are aiding as they consume a meal by a guest chef
According to organizer and curator Ania Szremski, the concept originated out of Sunday Soup, a Chicago-based project in which curators and artists “were exploring” how they “could self-organize and self-support their practices without having to depend on existing funding structures.”
These structures, including mainly museums and foundations, Szremski believes, “are typically fraught with many layers of ideology-driven bureaucracy that can be really constrictive.”
At Sunday Soups, on the other hand, anyone could come, pay $10 for a bowl of soup, listen to several artists discuss their projects, and at the end of the meal, everyone would vote on which project they liked best, with the winning artist getting the sum of all the money paid towards the soup.
So Szremski decided to bring the idea to Cairo, a place with a notoriously complex relationship between big, state institutions like the Ministry of Culture, and the scattered, often more experimental independent scene in which Townhouse is a major player.
The move towards grassroots funding for artists comes in the context of an Egyptian art scene redefining itself after 60 years of transition. In the 1950s, Nasser’s government oversaw a massive proliferation of opportunities for artists, although they were not given completely free reign. “Artists gave up their independence, shelved their critical faculties and made bland propaganda,” argued writer Kaelen Wilson-Goldie in Frieze magazine recently, “because the trade-off was essentially employment for life.”
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