Bassam El Baroni: I would like to respond to this first question in a rather sparse manner. I sense a very positive tone in your intro and opening question which is very encouraging but that also makes me feel slightly uneasy; I hope that the reasons for this uneasiness will be slowly revealed through the proceedings of this online roundtable.
I studied painting at the faculty of fine arts, Alexandria University, graduating in 1998. In the period from 2000-2003 I went through what I call a period of intellectual-artistic schisms. The schisms began when my ideas as a thinker were quite advanced and my work as an artist could not really catch up with my knowledge. I stopped working as an artist and began thinking of the condition of the art student who like me was in a system that did not allow him/her to be in touch with the conditions and necessities of being a successful artist in today’s world. ACAF and a lot of my earlier practice was really about wanting to create the necessary environment where an art student could come into contact with live information about contemporary practice and understand what it takes to be an artist producing work that has impact both on a local and international level. It was also about unlearning the Egyptian academic tradition without taking it lightly. ACAF then had to be the opposite of this tradition, undefined to a certain degree, flexible, as non-authoritarian as possible (this in particular is the difference between how I work in Egypt and how I work elsewhere), and inviting. ACAF up until recently was about solving problems, vernacular artistic-intellectual problems, the problem of say the general misunderstanding that existed in the art-field (except for a small group of artists in Cairo) that contemporary art simply meant a change of media. Or the prevalent idea (although well hidden) that it was simply about getting the right look, feel, and process, that it was some sort of recipe, which in part is a quarter-truth, but no interesting and strong work comes out of this alone.
Anyway, after overcoming the schisms, and expanding my knowledge of how contemporary institutions work after I started traveling; I finally opened ACAF in late 2005. But, I think I still look at things from the angle of the artist and try to build curatorial ideas starting from that particular but widely varied angle. Since this angle can be one of a highly intellectually and successful artist, the angle of an artist who has trapped himself/herself into the tight corner of identity representation, the young graduate artist from a place like myself who is trying to sense what to do and where to go with his/her career, the artist who naively puts all the blame for his lack of success on a mythically constructed character called the curator, the artist who made interesting work at first but then started repeating the same old boring institutional critique over and over again, the models are numerous and many, and I think generally I look to find what dictates the larger picture and paints the circumstances and conditions for artists to think and work the way they do. Deciphering, unpacking, and re-imaging these conditions is generally what I think my curatorial work is about in a very abstract sense.