By Alix Norman
One could be forgiven for thinking there’s a typo in the press release: a project that’s “30 months long”? Surely they mean three? But no. As it turns out, this is a project so vast in scope and vision that it’s already taken organisers over 18 months of preparation. And it’s only just launched.
Named Confrontation Through Art: Contemporary Art as an Instrument for Reconciliation in Cyprus, the project is indeed a two-and-a-half-year collaboration between two non-profit organisations, The European Mediterranean Art Association (EMAA) and the Rooftop Theatre Group (both of whom boast years of experience in bi-communal and international activities), and is funded in the main by the European Union under the Cypriot Civil Society in Action programme. But, despite the lengthy words and complicated phrasing involved, this is a project that actually has the simplest – and best – of aims: bringing people together.
“Ever since EMAA was founded, 12 years ago, we’ve always had the vision that art is a very, very important tool with regards to reconciliation,” explains Project Coordinator, Özgül Ezgin. “We started on a smaller scale, holding lots of residencies and activities to bring people together through the medium of art, and years later this has grown into larger projects.”
But the mission, she adds, has always remained the same, and this latest undertaking furthers the aims of enhancing reconciliation, peaceful co-existence, tolerance and creative problem-solving awareness, and skills of diverse segments of Cypriot communities through contemporary art.
Her colleague, Assistant Project Coordinator Argyro Toumazou, concurs: “The crossing has been open for 10 years now, so this is a very pertinent matter. An everyday matter,” she adds, “especially for those of us who live in Nicosia; it’s as if your country ends in the middle of your town, no matter which side of the line you live on. So the division is a personal, everyday matter, not just a political one.”
Together with another three members of the project committee, these two highly experienced coordinators are bringing Confrontation Through Art to life, using the medium of art in all its forms to challenge, educate, inform and inspire citizens not just across the island, but also abroad.
“It’s important to have an international perspective from those who have an interest in areas of separation,” says Argyro, referencing the many notables who will be joining the project from countries across the EU. “It’s an opportunity to confront your problem through the eyes of others, embracing different perspectives,” she continues. “A chance to learn how non-nationals feel about the issues in Cyprus, away from our own inertia.”
But the project doesn’t merely involve inviting foreigners to the island, it’s also allowing local participants the chance to travel abroad, in the first of the five main activities: “Starting in January, there will be three residencies – one in Cyprus, one in Berlin and the last in Greece – for young Cypriot and European artists,” Özgül explains. “Each boasts a selected curator,” – the first of whom will be London-based Italian artist Viviana Checchia – “who will choose a number of participants in an open call, and will work with interdisciplinary experts in areas such as cookery, architecture, geography and sociology. And at the end of this time, the artworks produced will be hosted in an exhibition at both EMAA and – through the exemplary kindnesses of Mrs Rita Severis – at the Centre of Visual Arts and Research.”
The second activity on the calendar will be very similar in type, though this time with two residencies of five adult artists working closely with a curator – renowned Bosnian artist Branco Franceschi being the first of these. The third activity, however, is rather different and aims to confront a section of the population no similar project has previously tackled: children in rural areas.
“We’ll be holding a series of workshops for the children in four designated villages, two in the north and two in the south,” says Argyro, adding that though the specific villages have not yet been chosen, the group welcomes suggestions and collaborative ideas. “They’ll be creating art, visiting museums and galleries in Nicosia, coming together in the buffer zone and will, hopefully, visit each other’s home villages before a final exhibition at the Goethe-Institut Cyprus.”
Designed for speakers of the Turkish language, the fourth activity is a series of five presentations and lectures on aspects of contemporary art – given by expert art historians, writers and associated professors – involving a variety of issues regarding confrontation through art. And the final activity – perhaps the most momentous of all – will be the documentation of the project in full: a trilingual compilation of images and text encompassing the entire body of work – and the experiences it has engendered – from the project’s inception.
“We hope it will be a concrete reminder of the experiences and the processes involved in Confrontation Through Art; everything will be in there!” exclaims Argyro, clarifying that the book – no doubt a weighty tome by this time – should launch in 2017 as this historic project nears its completion.
This, then, is a massive undertaking – not just in terms of duration, but also in its hoped-for achievements. And none more pertinent, says Özgül, than the direct gains for the people of the island: “The artists who are directly involved, art lovers who visit the exhibitions, the villages and villagers who are chosen, those who read the book… everyone will benefit.” And, ultimately, it will all be going straight back to the community, with everything produced donated to EMAA for the founding of a contemporary arts museum.
“With Confrontation through Art we’re promoting contact and free dialogue on many levels,” Argyro concludes. “And even if, by the time we’re through, we’ve allowed just one person to understand another’s perspective, it’s a success.”
A confrontation it is then. But this is defiance in the best sense of the word: a confrontation that challenges us all – artists or no – to accept and understand each other through art; a confrontation of our perspectives. And at the end of that 30 months? Well, watch this space for news of a great success…
Confrontation Through Art: Contemporary Art as an Instrument for Reconciliation in Cyprus
For full details of the project and how to get involved, contact EMAA Capital Art Centre on 0090 227 37 99; Project Coordinator Özgül Ezgin on 0090 533 864 0418 or [email protected]; or Assistant Project Coordinator Argyro Toumazou on 99 317278 or [email protected] Further information is also available on the website www.art-confrontation.com, the Facebook page www.facebook.com/ConfrontationThroughArt and the Twitter feed @Confront_Art