FA/DE Famagusta Deryneia Mural Art Project | A journey along a project

Every journey, worth being defined as such, gains a substantial dimension when it ends and we return back home. Only then, an experience delimited in time and space, so intense that it seems at times unreal, acquires a precise form in our luggage of life experiences, a luggage that is perpetually growing.

This time WALLS carries its vocation, open to creative confrontation, to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, precisely on the island of Cyprus, an island which is extremely fascinating, not only for the beauty of its landscape. Placed at the Eastern hem of the Mediterranean Sea, thanks to its strategic position, Cyprus has been contented between a series of political powers that have alternated their presence on the island throughout the centuries. Squeezed between the Turkish and Near East lands, but close enough to Greece to perceive its influence, over the years Cyprus has been particularly interested by the actions of the Turkish and Greek governments. These states have insistently claimed rights on Cypriot territory, while a series of internal clashes between Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot groups arose in the 60s. This circumstances have caused a separation and consequent reorganization of the territory in two parts: the Republic of Cyprus in the Southern part, with a prevalence of Greek-Cypriot population, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a nation recognized by Turkey only. More than creating a high number of refugees due to the territorial redistribution, the established line of demarcation has remained impassable for a very long time, namely from 1974 to 2003, the year in which the first checkpoint has been opened. Though soothed throughout the years, a latent conflict is still perceived and is reflected in the still-existing wall of separation, the so-called “Green Line” which cuts the island in two parts.
The Cypriot partition, established in 1974 continues to generate powerful dynamics of conflict between the two major ethno-cultural groups and chain reactions, which crystallize human relations built on the basis of a deeply-rooted resentment.

©Panagiotis Mina

In order to face a resisting closure of the society concerning such issues, in the last few years a number of local realities (organizations, individual researchers and cultural operators) committed in an attempt to incentivize the discourse on the reactivation of bi-communal experience through a series of artistic and cultural initiatives, in most cases supported by European Union or United Nations. For instance, EMAA is a no-profit association, which created a platform for contemporary Cypriot artists of both communities. Another case is Rooftop Theatre, a group of professionals and theatre lovers who has created and performed plays based on the Cypriot conflict. By acting on multiple planes of production – from the economic/entrepreneurial to the cultural and touristic one – with the purpose to recreate a climate for reconciliation, RENEWAL, an initiative of local NGOs supported by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) aims to provide concrete occasions of collaboration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots intervening in the territory of Famagusta. In this area, the main centres are Famagusta and Deryneia, two cities that are emblematic and representative of the Cypriot conflict: two adjacent and once connected residential areas, but placed at the opposite sides of the Green Line.

For WALLS, the occasion to face the Cypriot situation presents itself with the invitation of Renewal to imagine a public art project able to symbolically connect the cities of Famagusta and Deryneia through the artistic language. The proposal finds expression in FA / DE – Famagusta Deryneia Mural Art Project, a two weeks project from 19 to 31 October 2015 involving two Turkish-Cypriot, Nurtane Karagil – Umay Kutay Yilmaz, and two Greek-Cypriot artists,Opsis Synopsis – thwenty-three, selected by WALLS’ team after a public call and invited to co-intervene on a wall in Deryneia (Nurtane Karagil – thwenty-three) and one in Famagusta (Umay Kutay Yilmaz – Opsis Synopsis). 

Though using different media and approaches, the selected artists – Nurtane Karagil, twenty three, Umay Yilmaz Kutay, Opsis Synopsis – appear to draw on the visual and symbolic universe that can be associated to the collective dimension of Cyprus, in order to develop a personal narration and critique. Profiting from the artists’ wide vision, it is sought to bring the artistic solicitation in dialogue with the territory in order to activate a process of cultural confrontation to be extended to the visitors/citizens as well. The challenge for WALLS is to create the occasion for a fruitful encounter between heterogeneous artists who differentiate themselves not only at the expressive level, but also from the identity perspective. Generating an open dialogue seems to be one of the opening urgencies; the idea is to explore the unpredictability of a dialogue which is, as such, extraordinarily complex and thorny, by attempting to facilitate a upheaval and consequent revision of the fixed parameters carried by each of the artists.

FA/DE ©PanagiotisMina

What activates such intense dialogue is the artistic residency, conceived like a container of experiences oriented towards a rediscovery of the territory by the artists. All along the project, the artists live under the same roof, in a house immersed in a quiet and green area, not far from the centre of Famagusta: a condition of forced cohabitation, which favour since the beginning, the creation of a climate for a mutual exchange and sincere cohesion able to produce a continuous and passionate discussion over the activities. The dense programme designed for the project aims to channel different fields of knowledge and to provide multiple keys to interpretation. This amounts to a non-linear journey made of occasions for crossing places and people that are able to present details, anecdotes and storylines for a wider narration still to be composed. From the visit to Cyprus Archeological Museum to the exhibition of a young Cypriot photographer, Panagiotis Mina, passing through a series of public monuments in Nicosia: each single step represents a moment of growth for the artists. Chrystalleni Loizidou, a young researcher from the department of Visual Anthropology of the University of Nicosia guides us in the reading of the territory through a series of public monuments, especially those which repetitively went through artistic intervention. These sites are particularly interesting for the understanding of processes of social interaction with the urban space. Via confronting themselves with these commemorative objects, a debate arises between the artists who raise questions on the social impact of their own practices and explore possible developments within the present project. In the programme is also Senih Çavusoglu, a well-known Turkish-Cypriot artist, head of the Department of Visual Arts and Design of the University of Famagusta. Senih presents to us some of his more incisive works, which insist on a few relevant aspects of the Cypriot tension: from the operation of propaganda and military language, to the process of decay and desertion of places and to the transmission of collective memory. His work together with the work of his students contains an endless reservoir of personal stories that are heard, told and even only imagined: these stories are brought to life through a series of acts of graphic manipulation and are therefore translated into vivid images, which are extremely topical to the eyes of the people who did not live them. Finally, we meet Esra Can Akbil, an architect from the team of Hands-on Famagusta project. This is an ambitious and innovative project which aspires to activate process of participated urban design through a web platform which functions like a video-game, together with other tools of facilitation of a public debate, such as workshops and questionnaires. Aiming to reinforce the modes of expression related to public consultation and deliberation, this project wishes to re-imagine, collectively, the future of Famagusta, with the hope of smoothing the way for an effective collaboration and cohabitation of the communities.

©Panagiotis Mina

The sedimentation of visual languages, voices and material juxtapositions configures itself as an aesthetic and sensorial experience: the ochre of the sand and the sandstone filling the architectures, the crystal, turquoise sea and the charming decadence which we find in Varocha (the abandoned area), compose a sequence of lightning but dense encounters which we jealously keep in our emotional luggage. This way, we assist to a stratified process that can be said to appear assimilated to the composite texture of the group going through the path of rediscovering and re-telling of a shared story (generally characterised by opposite readings). All the elements are present: every artist finds his counterpart, his forced opposite and, at the same time, he finds the external element (WALLS). These three components travel in parallel, carried by their discoveries, each living the various experiences according to different gradations of wonder, concern and joy that alternate. These complementary perceptions are visually placed in an in-between space, in the middle of a triangulation between artists of “opposite sign” and between artists and curators. A space from within, where it is possible to apprehend, rediscover and reconstruct one’s own position, starting from a shimmering, wider look. A new elaboration made from a position of inner alterity is what propels the activation of the creative moment, which manipulates and remodels the raw material collected in order to reach, at the end of the path, the artwork.

©Panagiotis Mina

The conceptual elaboration of the artworks is the ultimate terrain where the exchange between the artists is decoded and where it solidifies. Time is ripe to remove even the last mask and to erode each residual rigidity. At the beginning of the second week every artist has to confront himself with him/her self, with the other and with the public; every group finds itself in front of its own wall and so it starts the process of visual breaking. The connectors have been activated, the risk of a short-circuit lies constantly in ambush, but the sparks between the four artists appear to be extremely productive.
The mural of Famagusta seems to activate itself quite rapidly: Umay Yilmaz Kutay e Opsis Synopsis soon spatially organize the concept around which the composition is set. Placed within the walled-city – at the edge of the main square that holds the cathedral turned into a mosque – the façade dialogues with the left side of the mosque which face each other. The owners of the surrounding shops constantly oversee the painting of the wall, caught in the moment of playing draughts sitting in front of their shops, but willing to offer coffee to the artists at any moment of the day! The tourists that visit the beautiful square of the mosque are attracted by an unusual movement and seeing young artists climbing the scaffolding and get closer to steal a few pictures.

The work The Great Escape recuperates an oneiric dimension and yet it explicitly refers to the area where Famagusta and the work itself are set: a bare terrain devoid of cultivations surmounted by a fortress on which the lighthouse of Famagusta rises. The scene describes a situation in a process of becoming: a great ship-balloon full of memories and experiences of a consumed population, which is ready to take a flight and leave behind that arid and amorphous terrain. In the moment in which the ship is taking off, it comes to an abrupt stop and suddenly a certitude manifests itself: the same land from which one wants to escape, it is the base on which it is possible to rely to actualize a change and proceed with the development of history. The resulting image, though built upon the dynamism of a double movement is pervaded by a conscious stillness that takes the viewer in a contemplative dimension; at the same time it points at the urge for an act of love, which is as concrete as transcendental.

FA/DE ©PanagiotisMina

Given to the dissimilar nature of the city of Deryneia, a reality prevailingly rural, the suburban wall of Deryneia is interested by different dynamics. Placed at the border of the city, nearby a checkpoint about to open, the wall is seldom visited by spontaneous visitors: the people who approach the wall are all intentionally searching for an artwork in the making. Nevertheless, since the first brush a group of people fond of the project gather around the wall and offer their own support in differ ways, such as searching for the needed material, bringing food and beverage and for assuring themselves that the mood of the artists is cheerful enough. Nurtane Karagil and twenty three seem to struggle at the beginning to find a common approach: they are often find to renegotiate their expressive means and specific language. Yet, the insistence of a process of continuous investigation on each artist’s creative mode generates a technical research that affects a deeper authorial quest, which leads to an effective and fruitful extension of the possibilities of realisation. Differently from the wall of Famagusta, the artists opt for a paratactic conception and position the whole composition on only one plane, by doing so they intensify its symbolic value. The line which divides the sky from the earth is lost in an undefined point of the wall, the planes are turned upside down: it is uncertain if this result is due to the mannequin-hands which invade the space or if these hands undertake a repairing function. Though segmented, the two-dimensional figures which compose the scene behave in such a way as to serve the total balance of the scene. To highlight a situation of immobility, the frame elevates the mural artwork, by bestowing a precise status to it and it emphasises the distinction between the real and the imaginative, the interior and the exterior. A distinction that seems to be nullified and ridiculed from the intervention of the hands which have the faculty of crossing the two planes and act from the external to the internal and the other way around.

FA/DE ©PanagiotisMina

In order to integrate this moment of bridging, exchange and creation between the artists, a privileged young public observes day after day the gradual composing of the works: the children of the primary and secondary schools of Deryneia and Famagusta are involved in the active observation of the project. In particular, they are invited to take part to the artistic process, to imagine themselves to redraw the surface of the wall that they see getting coloured in front of their eyes. By proposing the topics and the modes of street and public art, the attempt is to approach the young population of Famagusta and Deryneia by infusing a new awareness in their understanding of the place where they live and what the aesthetic aspect implies. In a place like Cyprus, for children to reimagine the surface of a wall extends its meaning into observing closely their surroundings, themselves and their relation with the others. Despite the natural, initial shyness, a sensitive and careful awareness clearly emerge from the children’s drawings.The visual suggestions offered by the artists merge with the young knowledge of the world of the children as well as with their expectations. Coming to represent the element of conjunction between the artists and the children, the drawings amount to vivid and expressive images that poetically describe the children’s wishes for the future of their country. On the final event in Famagusta, the children’s drawings are brought into dialogue with the artwork as they are exposed on a panel next to it. Through a creative gesture which accommodates both its realisation and presentation in the public space, the children become active protagonists of a wider cultural process which interests their cities by rendering them aware of their own constructive possibilities.

To conclude a process of personal, collective and artistic recognition, the artists pass on the baton to the young generations, transmitting them the fruits of their personal elaboration of a collective memory, by entrusting them a mission: that of verifying and further developing this shared process.

FA/DE ©PanagiotisMina

FA/DE – Famagusta Deryneia Mural Art Project significantly makes use of the contradictions and uncertainties of the Cypriot situation to pinpoint and simultaneously overcome them. The objective and practical difficulties, such as those of mobility, exchange and communication – originated by the absurd survival of a “separation under the same roof” that we encountered during the unfolding of the project, did not prevent us to pursue an aesthetic and inner enrichment which has been shared with the community. In a corner of the world inundated by beauty, the retrieval of an aesthetic dimension as a rise of all the essential functions that orbit around people’s lives does not place itself as a natural consequence, but manifests if and when taking a precise stance that arouse from a solid awareness. The artists invited to FA / DE project have undertaken this path first, by proceeding empirically: they have unpacked each of the layers that compose their subjectivity. They have stayed “on the other side” for a longer time than a fleeting Sunday excursion. They rather went back in time and they connected to a subterranean existent that is almost invisible, barely audible. This dimension got lost, the echoes of which are however perceivable within one’s own family context, it now enriches and integrates itself with the missing part.

In a place where territorial belonging carries both a sense of familiarity and obscurity, step by step, this belonging land gets discovered again, the history is rethought and new possibilities of existence are imagined by and if starting from a shared ground. Under the guise of a foreign traveller discovering one’s own land, it is possible to become, gradually, a mobile citizen (of the world).

Francesca Lacroce, Produzione e Ricerca, WALLS

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