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Colour within the walls

With the recent change in weather, it’s time to think wintry thoughts, do wintry things and take up wintry pastimes. Sex on the beach (the cocktail of course) is out, cuddling on the couch is in. Boating in the sea is over, floating in the bath is back. And what we all really want to do for the next few months is wrap ourselves in fluffy pink blankets, drink red wine and spend our evenings quietly colouring in… Well, I do, anyway. And so will lots of others, once they get their hands on Melissa Hekkers’ My Nicosia Mandala Colouring Book.

Fun, fresh and interactive, this book is the perfect way to while away those winter nights, especially if you’re based in the capital. Because while you’re happily colouring ‘within the walls’, you’ll also be learning oodles about the city in which you live, from its architectural elements to its culture, and the fascinating history behind the Old Town. ‘11 bastions, 11 mandalas, 1 city’ is the tagline for this “colouring book which invites enthusiasts to get a better knowledge of the city of Nicosia, and which is based on the idea of the mandala,” Melissa explains.

Mandala translates from Sanskrit as ‘circle’, and is both a Hindu and a Buddhist spiritual ritual symbol representing the cosmos, the union and wholeness of our universe. And it’s also a very popular element in colouring books. Which is just how the project began.

“In February 2015 I was sitting by the fire with my colouring book and came across a few mandala designs. And immediately I imagined the walls of Nicosia.” Not only were the two shapes very similar – “look at a map of the Old Town, or the logo of our municipality and you’re almost seeing a mandala” – but there were a great many political and chronological parallels between the city and this eastern concept. “The mandala represents oneness, a circle of balance and union, so perhaps it’s a timely idea,” Melissa muses. “Negotiations and unity are currently at the forefront of the national consciousness. But more than that we live in a multicultural city, a place where the borders have opened, friendships have formed – this could well be a historical time of harmony for all of us.”

In a city where so many elements and cultures are currently knitting into one coherent whole, the mandalas of My Nicosia Mandala Colouring Book reference the idea of one people, and one city. “What I focused on is the 11 bastions of Nicosia which create one city, regardless of whether there’s a divide or not,” Melissa clarifies. Thus the elements included in the artwork incorporate details found right across the Old Town, from north to south. “Obviously, if Nicosia needs the harmony of the mandala then those visual elements had to derive from the actual city itself – it couldn’t be just flowers,” Melissa expounds. “And as soon as I knew that, the next step came naturally…”

Doors and floors, knockers and knobs, balconies and ironwork are all incorporated… “I had lots of pictures of traditional architectural features, elements everyone takes photos of and is familiar with, that are spread around the whole city. These are elements which appear on both sides of the divide: beautiful and concrete,” she adds, indicating how the ubiquitous wrought ironwork of a traditional city door has been translated into the mandala of the Mula bastion, and how the intricacies of the time-honoured Cypriot floor tile are referenced in that of the Podocatoro bastion.
Of course creating the artwork wasn’t enough to launch an entire book, so Melissa called on long-time friend and graphic designer Zara Der Arakelian to help with the design. “There’s no way this project could have gone ahead without her,” says Melissa. “She took my sketches and converted them into an electronic format, and then with her visual eye she tended to my sketches and added her own elements and ideas in the mandalas, along with perfecting the layout, text and fonts.”

Working clockwise from “12 o’clock, the Barbaro bastion, though this was an arbitrary starting point,” the book presents 11 double-page spreads. “On the right-hand side is the mandala itself, while the left depicts the name of the bastion, a graphic showing its location, and a bit of its history. Few people know, for instafeature3nce, that each bastion was named for the Venetian sponsor who ‘gifted’ it to the city in the 1500s…”

Helped in her project by “so many people, all of whom were endlessly enthusiastic”, Melissa is especially grateful to art historian Anna Marangou. “While I knew what I was doing visually, I realised there was an element missing as I didn’t know all the names of the bastions off by heart, nor their history. So in that Anna is very well known for her work on Nicosia, I approached her and with the idea and she was very excited to bring a simple, fun and interactive approach to the history of Nicosia; through our discussions it was decided she would write a small paragraph about each of the bastions featured in the book.”

The information was then translated into Greek and Turkish – “to be honest the biggest challenge for me was working in a language I don’t understand; I’ve had wonderful people ensuring the Turkish was correct and that we were touching history in a rightful way” – and then both the text and visuals were ready for launch… Just in time for winter, which is when we all start to think about snuggling up by the fire with a good book – and perhaps a pack of felt-tips.

Bound to be a bestseller come Christmas, My Nicosia Mandala Colouring Book is an ideal present for all ages. As a testament to the history, the beauty and the burgeoning togetherness of the world’s last divided capital, it’s a true celebration of unity. And the perfect winter distraction for those of us who, like the author herself, “really do love our city.”

My Nicosia Mandala Colouring Book
Published by ‘a bookworm publication’, and will launch on November 27 at CVAR, Nicosia. For more information visit the Facebook page ‘My Nicosia Mandala Colouring Book Launch’


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