Gilane Tawadros has been announced as the new director of Whitechapel Gallery, one of the country’s leading art spaces.
Tawadros, a curator and writer, is chief executive of DACS, a not-for-profit visual artists rights management organization, and was previously founding director of the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva).
She will become one of the few women of color to lead a big arts institution in the UK when she takes up the new post in October, replacing Iwona Blazwick – who steps down after more than 20 years in the role.
“As a passionate advocate for the critical value of art and artists to everyone in society, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to lead one of the world’s most pioneering cultural institutions,” Tawadros said in a statement.
“I look forward to working in close collaboration with Whitechapel Gallery’s board and team, artists, and communities in east London, across the country and the globe, to shape a future for the gallery that is bravely responsive to the pressing socio-political and environmental context of our time.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Tawadros added that it was a “very particular moment” for cultural institutions because of “the climate crisis, what’s happening in Ukraine, but also what seems like deepening social and political divides. We have to think deeply about what the role of the contemporary art gallery is,” she said.
“It’s an opportunity to think and reflect on what’s going on in the world, as well as to be inspired. We’ve just been through a massive pandemic, and we will bear the scars of that. Many of us during the pandemic turned to music, art, literature and film and realized how important those things are. The question of the role of arts and culture is a really important one.”
An art historian by training, Tawadros has curated a number of exhibitions nationally and internationally, and written and edited several books. An anthology of her writings by her, The Sphinx Contemplating Napoleon: Global Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Difference was published by Bloomsbury in 2021.
She said she hopes her appointment will inform the future program of the gallery as well as the diversity of its audiences.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always been interested in how different voices, perspectives and world views are represented in cultural institutions, because in many ways they hold up a mirror to people’s experiences. That’s really important to me, and really important in terms of the Whitechapel Gallery. It’s located in London, in one of the most culturally diverse locations in the country. The critical thing is to make sure that change is a lasting structural change.”
Dr David Dibosa, the chair of Whitechapel Gallery trustees, said he was overjoyed by the appointment of Tawadros, who brings decades of experience to the role.
“She believes in the role of art in society and knows how to equip institutions to play their part. Throughout her career, Gilane has remained committed to artists alongside all those who help to bring their work into public view, ”he said.
Over more than three decades, Tawadros has explored questions of race and inequality in culture and society. She began her career in gallery education, establishing the first education programs at the Hayward Gallery in the 1990s. In 2008, she pursued postgraduate research in human rights at Birkbeck, University of London, where she looked at rights and representations in the work of contemporary artists.
She is a founding trustee and chair of the Stuart Hall foundation, an organization committed to public education.
Tawadros also established the Art360 Foundation in 2014, a charity dedicated to supporting artists’ legacies for future generations.