The Wick - Interview Whitechapel Gallery director Gilane Tawadros The Wick - Interview Whitechapel Gallery director Gilane Tawadros
Monday Muse

Interview Whitechapel Gallery director Gilane Tawadros

Interview
Gilane Tawadros
Interview
Gilane Tawadros
Art historian, curator and writer Gilane Tawadros took the reins as director of the Whitechapel Gallery in 2022. As a creative leader who has long been interested in how different voices and world views are represented in cultural institutions, it is fitting that she should helm an arts organisation in one of the diverse neighbourhoods in the UK.

Born in Egypt and raised in London, Tawadros has written and edited numerous books, curated countless exhibitions and was the founding director of the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) in London, which, over a decade, earned a reputation as a ground-breaking cultural agency at the leading edge of cultural debates nationally and internationally.

She tells The Wick about the role of art in contemporary life, which artwork she’d most like to steal and her best advice for steering a gallery through challenging economic times.


THE WICK:   Talk us through your typical Monday.

Gilane Tawadros:   Whitechapel Gallery is closed to visitors on Mondays so it gives me a much needed opportunity to catch up with admin, schedule meetings with my team and plan for the week ahead.

TW:   Today we’re celebrating 2024 Art Icon winner Isaac Julien. What is the significance of Art Icon and what made Julien’s work stand out?

GT:   Whitechapel Gallery’s Art Icon Award was established in 2014 to acknowledge and celebrate the work of an artist who has made a profound and lasting contribution to the cultural and artistic landscape and influenced younger generations of artists. Isaac’s beautiful and compelling film and video works have redefined the genre, combining beauty and poetry with political allegory. He couldn’t be a more fitting recipient.

TW:   You joined Whitechapel Gallery in Autumn 2022 amidst continued arts cuts. What three tips would you give to other institutional leaders to stay resilient?

GT:   1) It’s a really difficult time to be leading an arts organisation but also a very important time to do so. Remind yourself of the important role that art can play in our lives.
2) The title of our summer season was ‘Life is More Important Than Art’. The art world can be all-consuming at times and it’s important to take time off doing something completely different.
3) The art sector is a rich and vibrant ecosystem: it’s important to reach out to colleagues and peers to remind yourself you’re not alone.

TW:   You call Whitechapel ‘the artists gallery for everyone’. What do you see the role of art to be in the fragmented society we live in?

GT:   Art can play an important role in changing the way we see the world and experience it from different points of view. Art can be a starting point for bridging differences and recognising our shared humanity.

“Isaac’s beautiful and compelling film works have redefined the genre, combining beauty and poetry with political allegory. He couldn’t be a more fitting recipient.”

TW:   Art can play an important role in changing the way we see the world and experience it from different points of view. Art can be a starting point for bridging differences and recognising our shared humanity.

GT:   I am excited about how the forthcoming programme (artists like Gavin Jantjes, Sonia Boyce Hamad Butt and Joy Gregory) opens up new conversations with our local communities. Whitechapel Gallery is located in Tower Hamlets, one of the most diverse areas in the UK and home to successive waves of migrants over hundreds of years.

TW:   Favourite culturally curious spot in London? (Not Whitechapel)

GT:   Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, West London.

TW:   What’s the best dining spot you would take your favourite artist to in East London?

GT:   Tayyabs Punjabi restaurant

TW:   The one museum work you would steal?

GT:   The Rosetta stone and give it back to the Egyptian people.

TW:   What is the best piece of advice you have received and would like to pass on?

GT:   Live life as though you will die tomorrow and live forever.


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