Housed in the basement-garage of a residential tower block in the east-Alexandrian neighborhood of Miami, MASS Alexandria is a space for emerging artists in Egypt to engage with diverse artistic practices and discourses, whilst developing their own work in tandem, over a 7-month study and studio program. Founded by the artist Wael Shawky in 2010, MASS Alexandria has so far hosted over 35 artists aged between 13 and 30 years in two separate programs. The most recent program ended on August 1st of this year, with an exhibition of the artists’ work in a group show titled Exhibition 2.
A burgeoning, emerging generation of artists, many of which have been schooled at the University of Alexandria, which offers the only fine art degree in the city, find themselves with seldom opportunities for the encounter of contemporary art, and the ideas, narratives and discourses that accompany it. Aside from a handful of organisations, amongst them Bassam El Baroni’s ambitious Alexandria Contemporary Art Forum (ACAF), which champions an intellectual multi-disciplinary approach to contemporary art through exhibitions, workshops and symposia, the cultural landscape in Alexandria is sparse and sporadic. Wael Shawky’s impetus behind MASS Alexandria was for an open, yet critical, space for the study, production, exhibition and discussion of art, for artists from a variety of backgrounds who are primarily based in Egypt’s second city.
In October 2010, with the enrolment of 12 students, MASS Alexandria’s inaugural Pilot Studio Program began, a testing ground for future iterations. Over the course of 6 months, the students took part in talks, discussions, workshops and meetings with the core team of Sarah Rifky, Curator at Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery, Associate Professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and dOCUMENTA (13) Curatorial Agent and the director Wael Shawky, as well as with visiting lecturers; artists, curators, writers and art educators from Egypt and abroad. 
After a break from the program due to the events of January 2011, the students and lecturers returned to MASS Alexandria to condense their ideas and experience formulated over the previous 6 months for the closing Exhibition 1, a group show of the artists’ work in May 2011.
The second MASS Alexandria program began at the end of January 2012, this time expanding its remit, and inviting 22 artists to participate in a continuing scheme of activities that built upon the Pilot Study Program. A Program Curator was initiated to coordinate the program and conduct regular studio visits and workshops with the students while developing structural elements of the space such as building a library and resource centre.
On the 9th May 2012, 9 participants in the 2012 cohort of MASS Alexandria departed Alexandria for Kassel in Germany, to undertake a 1-month residency, The Cairo Seminar: Studium, working as assistants for a number of artists included in the 13th iteration of the quinquennial Documenta exhibition. Whilst in Kassel the students worked on a number of projects spanning mediums and approaches, spread disparately around the city. These included working partnerships with: Theaster Gates on his 12 Ballads for the Huguenot House, Geoffrey Farmer’s Leaves of Grass in the Neue Galerie, Gareth Moore’s A place – near the buried canal and Pierre Huyghe’s Live things and inanimate things, made and not made both in the Karlsaue Park, Tarek Atoui’s La Lutherie and Metastable Circuit 1 in various sites in and around the Orangerie, Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s multi-part AND… AND… AND… project spread across Kassel, Nedko Solakov’s Knights (and other dreams) in the Brothers Grimm Museum, Julie Mehretu’s Mogamma in the Documenta-Halle amongst others. Combined with the artist assistantships were tours of the exhibition venues before the opening, offering a first glimpse of works, and an insight into the process of exhibition-making; seminars and workshops with visiting documenta artists and agents – including a fascinating conversation between Lars bang Larsen and Tarek Atoui that considered Larsen’s interest in psychadelia and the process behind Atoui’s work to be shown in Kassel, with all the overlaps and interconnections in between – and a day trip to Kassel’s neighbor – Frankfurt. This excursion sought to encounter the city’s art scene from both macro (institutions) and micro (artists) levels. Visits to MMK - Museum for Modern Art, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Schirn Kunsthalle, Städel Museum and the Weltkulturen Museum, were combined with a morning spent at the Städelschule, touring the school, speaking with the director Nikolaus Hirsch, and taking part in a studio visit with one of the school’s artists – the Syrian conceptual artist Khalid Barakeh – who spoke openly about his experience of studying, working and living in the city.
Envisioned as complementary educational initiative, The Cairo Seminar: Studium facilitated the engagement of the students at MASS Alexandria with a diverse set of artistic practices, through on-site experience, directly in conversation with artists with a range of approaches and experience. Each of the students developed their professional and artistic skills in response to the opportunities created by this specific environment, as well as through their encounters with the entire dOCUMENTA (13) exhibition.
Upon returning to Alexandria, the participants in MASS Alexandria were involved in The Cairo Seminar: The Seminar, between 1st - 8th July, a position of dOCUMENTA (13). The Seminar was a series of breakfasts, readings, lectures and discussions, as well as collective dinners, held in significant venues in the cities of Alexandria and Cairo with invited artists, curators, thinkers and writers.
The last months of MASS Alexandria’s 2012 program have featured the final workshops and visits from an ensemble of over 20 professionals working in the fields of art, literature, film, performance, history, criticism and interdisciplinary studies. The sequential, Exhibition 2 marks the end of the current program, atomizing and materialising the inquiry each artist has undertaken; via Alexandria, Cairo, Kassel and elsewhere.
Daniella Rose King
Curator and writer, born in London, UK. Currently Program Curator of MASS Alexandria.
2 El Madina Al Monawara
Founder / Director: Wael Shawky
Program Curator: Daniella Rose King