A very short lived exhibition at East Wing: Cairo. Open City – New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution

© Kim Badawi

© Kim Badawi

East Wing is an international platform for photography, founded in Doha, Qatar and recently opened a gallery space in Dubai (in the Limestone House building in Dubai International Financial Centre). East Wing’s aim is to, 

...present new perspectives on topics that matter, with a keen eye on innovative artistic expression. The work we show is there to surprise, trigger curiosity and reflect on existing views.

The gallery space launched with an opening of a new exhibition on 19th March 2014 titled Cairo. Open City – New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution in collaboration with Museum Folkwang (Essen, Germany). The show was previously exhibited in Museum Folkwang last year and in Museum für Photographie Braunschweig in 2012

Unfortunately, the exhibition was very short lived because a few weeks after it opened, its director Elie Domit was asked to shut it down. There was no clear or formal reason given. But as things go here, when it comes to censorship, it is difficult to get clear answers.

This is the first time I hear of an entire exhibition getting shut down in Dubai. There have been instances when a gallery was asked to remove a certain piece from an exhibition (even at Art Dubai). But for an entire exhibition, this is a first as far as I know and find it quite worrying.

Dubai is trying to promote itself as a destination for arts and culture. But when things like this happen, it undermines all efforts that go into promoting art and culture in the city.  At the end of the Dubai’s Art Season in March, a press release from Dubai Culture included this quote by her Highness Sheikha Latifa Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority,

Promoting the arts and culture scene is one of the pillars of Dubai’s strategic vision. With Dubai Art Season, we are highlighting the creative potential of our city and its ability to bring together artists from around the world to promote intercultural dialogue and the exchange of ideas.

Dubai lacks art institutions, but has plenty of commercial galleries that are here to sell art, like any commercial art space is expected to. It isn’t often when a gallery in Dubai puts together an exhibition to create a dialogue and engage with the community. Dubai thrives on consumption and I see it in all fields here, even in the art world. Which is why it is important to have non-commercial projects like Cairo. Open City exhibited here, and a shame to hear it gets shut down very easily. 

Cairo. Open City was one of the few museum quality exhibitions we had in Dubai. It explored how "visual media has been transformed by a digital revolution, and the creation of  'citizen journalism'". There has been a huge shift in how we consume news and information in the past few years, and an exhibition like this takes a look back at a recent history and to question how will things change in the future.

Was it bad choice for the gallery to open with an exhibition that is deemed a sensitive topic in this country? Perhaps. Should its description been rephrased to suit the region's approach to activism and citizen journalism? Maybe.

But are we not able to move beyond the obvious as soon as anything related to Egypt post 25th January 2011 is mentioned, and find out why this exhibition exists? I wonder if this exhibition would have been left alone if it was about the role of citizen journalism in places like Ukraine, Brazil, Turkey where there’s been (and continue to have) a wave of public protests there.

Maybe "citizen journalism" is the sensitive subject here and not even Egypt and its ongoing revolution.

Regardless of the reason, when a decision has been made to shut down an entire exhibition without any formal statements or reasons, it will never be clear where exactly is the line that shouldn’t get crossed to lead to such a reaction.  

If you didn’t get a chance to see this exhibition for yourself, below are photos from the exhibition, along with East Wing’s description of it. I’ve also added images from the very extensive catalogue, which includes works from the exhibition and essays – in English, Arabic and Dutch. It's great reference material and I personally think it’s a very valuable catalogue (you can buy the catalogue online from Amazon). 

The exhibition included a screening of Jehane Noujaim's award winning documentary The Square (which was screened last December during the Dubai International Film Festival and most recently in Sharjah).

East Wing’s next scheduled exhibition is "Occupied Pleasures" by Tanya Habjouqa. I hope this exhibition will be left alone. 

Cairo. Open City – New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution

Cairo. Open City- New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution is divided into various chapters curated by different protagonists of the Cairo art scene, including the artists: Lara Baladi and Heba Farid, the photographers Thomas Hartwell and Tarek Hefny, the artist Jasmina Metwaly, the filmmaker Philip Rizk and journalists Rowan El Shimi and Alex Nunns.

Included in the exhibition are photographs, videos, drawings and texts by: Antro, Kim Badawi, Taha Belal, Denis Dailleux, Osama Dawod, Rowan El Shimi, Hossam el-Hamalawy, Mosa’ab Elshamy, Ahmed Kamel, Mosireen, Nasser Nouri, Alex Nunns, Jonathan Rashad, Ivor Prickett, Philip Rizk, Randa Shaath, Thawra Media and Lilian Wagdy.

This exhibition does not attempt to showcase a finished work, but rather utilizes the openness of the ongoing process of change taking place in Egypt through the works created, mostly by Egyptian artists, photographers, curators and activists. 

Cairo. Open City explores how visual media has been transformed by a digital revolution, and the creation of  'citizen journalism'. The exhibition includes video works from some important archives such as, Mosireen, a media collective that disseminates video content of the revolution and the Thawra Media, an open platform for people to share photos and videos, reporting their own experience of bearing witness to ongoing change.

East Wing’s exhibition of Cairo. Open City- New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution was originally launched in German cities: Braunschweig, Berlin, Essen and Hamberg, initiated and co-curated by Florian Ebner, Head of Photographic Collections at Museum Folkwang and Curator, Constanze Wicke.

This exhibition in Dubai has been mounted by East Wing to illustrate and illuminate how these new digital networks have contributed to changes in the way photographs are perceived; raising exciting discourse on documentary photography, video, art, audio recordings and journalism. 

Photos of the catalogue: 

Cairo. Open City – New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution catalogue can be purchased online via Amazon.   

Photos of the exhibition supplied by East Wing, © Richard Allenby-Pratt.

Photos of the catalogue taken by me.