Curated by William Wells, the exhibition “Out of Place” pulls together the work of nine contemporary artists from Egypt yet dispenses with the notion that they speak for their country, their city, or even the art space they use as a common platform for their work. (Wells is the founder and director of Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, a nonprofit art space established in 1998.) From Simon Njami’s “African Remix” to the Cairo-focused iteration of Catherine David’s “Contemporary Arab Representations,” he knows exhibitions based on geography will recur and isn’t interested in adding to their project. In underlying theory and overlying practice, “Out of Place” considers the ways in which artists substitute one context for another to tease out new meanings and offer alternative readings—they make the familiar strange. Tarek Zaki’s installation of six sculptures, "Time Machine: Remembering Tomorrow," 2004, imagines the spent remains of today’s warfare as the novel artifacts of tomorrow’s antiquities museums. Hassan Khan’s streetwise Plexiglas wall work from 2006—featuring eighteen three-face panels that reveal layered images as viewers encroach upon and retreat from the piece—considers the disjunction between an individual artwork produced in solitude for an assumed elite and the visual energy and density of popular culture consumed by mass audiences. Titled Automatic Is the Voice That Speaks (and shown previously in London), Khan’s work proposes “the sign as accident” though comics, retro landscapes, and pages from soft-core pornography.
In terms of traveling artists and arts organizations, the heavy traffic between Cairo and Beirut has diminished over the past five years as the independent art scenes in both cities have gathered strength. “Out of Place” doesn’t newly bring artists such as Amal Kenawy, Mona Marzouk, and Wael Shawky to Beirut but rather returns them for fresh consideration after an era of crucial growth.