January’s visit by a French cartoonist, exhibiting his work in Nicosia only a week after the brutal attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s satirical magazine sets the tone of this review on the islands’ cultural happenings during 2015.
During his visit, he defended artistic freedom of expression but also highlighted the ‘colossal educational battle’ that is now imperative in order to better understand image and withstand the ‘beginning of a war against fundamentalists’.
Specialising in political satire and having illustrated the front page of French Newspaper ‘Le Monde’ since 1985, Jean Plantureux (Plantu) is a tribute to the work of cartoonists around the world.
“On a national, European, international level we have a pedagogical job to do with the first infantrymen of democracy, who are going to be professors, teachers… we have a colossal job to do in schools, in universities… We have to have this pedagogical conversation in order to better understand images and make people understand images better.
Almost a year ago, Plantu put forward that we were at the very beginning ‘of an immense pedagogical war’; a war ‘against fundamentalists’ and a pedagogical battle which has to be built with educators.
It’s interesting to correlate artistic ventures with the realities evoked by the past on our current stance. In February, local documentary photographer Alexia Makridou posed the question, “Can other people’s memories become our own?” as she confronted the narratives of refugees from Ammochostos that became big part of her own childhood memories, despite the fact that she was born post-1974.
Entitled ‘After before’, her documentary project consisted of archives of family photographs from Famagusta, interviews and portraits of refugees, images from personal belongings saved, all focusing on the engagement with the losses of the past.
Working across the divide was a common theme among the fine arts and cultural bodies. A two-year research project into stripping national narratives to their core through a collaborative initiative known as ‘Songs of My Neighbours’ carried out in Cyprus, Italy and Poland. The project hoped to facilitate dialogue and social justice among communities living in conflict zones through the arts and theatre.
Looking at the differences, and perhaps similarities to the countries around us, the project ‘Songs of my Neighbours’ that was finalised this year, consisted of listening and singing songs of the “other” and attempted to answer one question: “If I sing the songs of my neighbour, who lives in my country and with whom I am in conflict, will there be a change in our relationship?’”
Initially conceived as a mere collection of established traditional songs that reinforce tradition but also hold a substantial amount of information about communities’ wishes, history and culture, the initiative gradually took a wider scope.
Having exchanged songs and stories during the process of artistic research, the material gathered lead to an array of activities in forms of theatrical productions, workshops, screenings, symposia and the creation of a platform for arts performances in Cyprus, Poland and Italy.
The element of timelessness, in a local screening of prominent filmmaker and journalist Stelios Kouloglou’s short documentary, prompted a debate about the standstill of the refugee problem currently being faced by Europe.
Kouloglou sent out the first warning messages years before he became a Syriza MEP in 2015. The documentary ‘Welcome to Europe’ was the result of Kouloglou’s attempt to send a strong political message, calling on leaders to face the problem and slamming the way Europe treats refugees.
“Greece was handling things by itself but very badly … It was also the rise of Golden Dawn, during which the refugee question worked as a catalyst. I wanted to send a message both to Greek authorities as well as to Europeans … I wanted to underline that this was not the way you treat refugees, that it wasn’t according to the European values,” said Kouloglou.
Focusing on four hot-spots, ‘Welcome to Europe’ is a play on images, in which four refugee camps are presented as being situated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sarajevo… Yet the punchline delivered through subtitles, eventually reveals that the actual locations and peoples seen on film are in Greece.
A lighter note
This year also showcased the works of young talents striving to add their touch to cultural endeavours. Maria A. Aristidou’s first solo exhibition entailed a ‘coffee portrait’ of Hugh Laurie, known to most for his title role in American television medical drama ‘House’. The image went viral along with a coffee aquarelle duplicate of photojournalist Steve McCurry’s ‘Afghan Girl’ on the cover of national geographic.
Defining herself as being somewhat in between a commercial and fine artist, Aristidou’s ‘coffee paintings’ have an allure of pop-art and are inclined to depict portraitures of familiar public characters, through brushstrokes of alternating blends of coffee.
Looking back at the trend that Aristidou is right in the middle of burgeoning, her discovery of the potential of coffee as an art medium was merely accidental. Marina Katsari and Veronica Aloneftou pursued their drive to trace back the art of storytelling as an innate part of the human existence, an art they deemed as a means of transcending erratic, traditional stories accompanied by the sounds of a zither.
The duo came together on a journey that has led them to tell stories across the island, in museums, in festivals, in bookshops, schools, everywhere. As Katsari describes, the storytelling of traditional tales is in combination with traditional music from the diaspora in general. You’ll recognise “a little bit of Arabic, a little Persian… the zither is a multifaceted instrument which plays with elements from Asian Minor, Anatolia, Greece”, says Katsari. And by doing so it marries itself with the alternating genres of stories and plots.
The Sardam alternative literary readings festival rooted itself in literature but was not restricted by it and combined writing with other forms of art.
By launching a daring platform through which Cypriot and foreign writers are able to read, perform and present their work through a combination of other forms of art and/or artists, the festival now has the potential to reach wider audiences.
Founder Maria Ioannou estimates that the existing traditional, more passive relationship between writers and readers is being deconstructed and reaffirmed, a potential which she deems necessary for audiences in Cyprus.
A popular cookbook with a twist ‘Cyprus: Final Tastynation’ written in English and the Cypriot dialect reflects the ever-growing literary community of the island, with an array of literary works having been presented to the public, as well as a noticeable tendency to honour the Cypriot language.
Enhancing culinary delights and working towards promoting development, while improving the climate of reconciliation in the wider Famagusta region, the Renewal Project recognised the prominent role food takes in shaping our social interactions.
Renewal’s ‘Taste of Famagusta’ project reveals a story about Famagusta and Dheryneia’s culinary journey told through local recipes, food habits and tastes of the area. It was a journey that inspired concrete knowhow about the identity of people living in the area, but also instigated a shift in our perception of the two ‘estranged’ communities.
One of Cyprus’ only all-female bands, the Beluas, released their first single and will shortly release their album, an authentic act for audiences’ musical whims.
Comprised of four dynamic women, their presence on stage captivates the public with the rich music they produce (as opposed to merely their appearance). The band oozes artistic determination and infinite potential.
Seeing four women musicians on stage is somewhat exceptional, yet to their eyes that is neither the essence of their identity nor a sensitivity they can diminish.
“There’s a different sensitivity when you have four women in a room rather than four men so maybe that’s what the vibe is holding onto, but musically I don’t want people to describe us a girl band because I believe it’s completely irrelevant to the music,” admitted the band.
Passionate about reggae, Haji Mike has been in the music scene for over two decades, with hits such as 1992’s ‘Vrakaman’ literally pinning him down as an artist.
Yet it’s evident that the processes and perhaps experimentation he has embraced throughout the years have led him to a concrete place; a place where dub poetry takes the lead and the spontaneity of his lyrics tell the stories.
To this end, a brand new record label called Power Of Words released ‘Midnight Stories At 3am’ on an all-digital platform a couple of months ago.
written by Melissa Hekkers