Independent art spaces, funders, curators, artists, and networks from the Middle East, Africa and Europe were present at the Cairo Residency Symposium which took place from 25 until 27 March 2009 in the Egyptian capital. The discussions ranged from social to aesthetic with breakout groups on cultural dialogue, artist as educator, and curatorial practice.
Participants such as Goddy Leye of Art Bakery in Cameroon raised logistical concerns as well as alternative models, for example the Exitour project that took a group of young Cameroonian artists on a five-country road trip on their way to the Dakar Biennale. In the end, they missed the first week of the Biennale because they could not easily have a visa for Senegal at the Malian border. This example hints at a wider problem of artist mobility within the Middle East and Africa, an issue that some residencies are trying to resolve such as the Kuona Trust with its Pan-African residency program.
The bigger issue is that travel by artists from Europe to Africa and the Middle East is often funded by government cultural institutions and while reciprocity of artists from those countries traveling to Europe may be intended, the logistics as well as shifting visa regulations often obstruct an equal exchange. It is only very recently that initiatives such as Art Moves Africa and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) have begun to create new funding models that promote regional mobility.
The advent of alternative models and new funding mechanisms shifts the residency debate from one in which politicians in the North point fingers at 'holiday programs' when they need to make funding cuts and simultaneously ask what the residency sector can offer to smooth diplomatic relations. The issue now is to shift back the political economy of inviting and hosting artists to the basics: reconnecting neighbors divided by arbitrary borders. It was overtly stated that the Cairo Residency Symposium ‘was not’ intended to create a new network. But, networks don’t really do what they are told.
The Cairo Residency Symposium was made possible by the Townhouse Gallery, The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture and the Dutch embassy in Cairo.