NAHED MANSOUR in conversation with BASSAM EL BARONI of the Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum
The following text is excerpted from FUSE Magazine 34.4 (September 2011). In order to read the full text, you can purchase the article below.
The Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF), the only not-for-profit artist-run centre in the city, was established in May 2006. Housed in a bare but spacious second-floor flat with high ceilings and exposed brick walls, it is a refreshing anomaly in Alexandria, Egypt.
ACAF’s committed staff, comprised of Bassam El Baroni, Mona Marzouk and Mahmoud Khaled, have fostered an inviting contemporary art space offering workshops, artist talks and exhibitions as integral components of its programming—all free of charge.
Over the past six years, during my brief but annual returns to Alexandria and ACAF, I have been repeatedly amazed, though not surprised, by ACAF’s ability to remain faithful to its mandate, which pledges an “ongoing engagement with projects that bring together established and emerging artists, university students and diverse practitioners in contexts that recognize the value of an informal, non-hierarchal, open-ended circulation of information and experience.”
I most recently visited ACAF on August 8, 2011, to conduct an interview with Bassam El Baroni. His nuanced observations on the predicaments and tensions in current discussions about the relationship between art and politics in Egypt (and beyond) left me questioning my own previous understandings of independent art scenes, street art, contemporary art and revolution.
When establishing Alexandria’s first alternative or independent contemporary art space, do you think you created a dichotomy wherein ACAF directly opposed the existing art scene?
This has some truth to it, but it’s not entirely correct. Is the independent scene really independent? What does “independent” mean? How can we be truly independent if we are constantly pushed to pose ourselves as independent? I think institutions perform their independence in order to survive and be able to receive the little financial support that is available. I think that as an institution there is a certain performativity of independence that calls for constant posing as the alternative to the official discourse. But with ACAF, on a working level, we’ve tried to avoid that as much as we can.
In a recent interview with Hassan Khan in ArtTerritories 2, I was looking for the hidden reasons for this problematic dichotomy, as you call it, that people tend to use between the independent scene and the governmental, or official, scene. This has always been problematic because the ideology that we call “the official discourse” might have started out as official discourse, but it is no longer just propagated by institutions. It is actually deeply rooted in Egyptian society and part of many people’s identity. Posing yourself as the alternative to this is quite problematic.
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Bassam El Baroni is a curator and art critic from Alexandria, Egypt. He is the co-founder and director of the Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum, and was co-curator of Manifesta 8 (2010), held in Murcia, Spain. Recent exhibitions and engagements include: the ongoing collaborative archive project The Arpanet Dialogues, started in 2010 with Jeremy Beaudry and Nav Haq; Trapped in Amber: Angst for a Re-enacted Decade (2009), co-curated with Helga-Marie Nordby at UKS, Oslo, Norway; and Cleotronica 08 (2008), an international media art festival in Alexandria, Egypt. Since 2009, Bassam has developed and performed a series of dramatized context-specific lectures entitled “FOXP2,” which combine notions of pre-history, genealogy, economics and art criticism to create episodes of possible universalisms.
Nahed Mansour is a Toronto-based artist who works in performance, installation and video. Her works have been presented throughout Canada, including: SINGER (Whippersnapper Gallery, Toronto); Varied Toil (Modern Fuel, Kingston); Vertigo/ Vitiligo (La Centrale, Montreal); Kh (MAI, Montreal); Measuring (SAVAC’s MONITER 8, Toronto); Disorientalism (AKA Gallery, Saskatoon); and Darkening Cells (7a*11d Festival, Toronto). Since completing her MFA at Concordia University, Montreal, she has worked as a Program Coordinator at Mayworks Festival-Toronto, while continuing to pursue independent curatorial projects.
Image Credit: Street Art in Alexandria, 2011. Photograph by Kole Kilibarda.