Art and cultural activities can tangibly contribute to efforts of achieving peace and reconciliation in communities devastated by conflict, President Nicos Anastasiades said on Monday, during the opening of a bicommunal art exhibition with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
“They can serve as a medium of developing a cultural awareness of one another, as well as an understanding of the socio-political issues that need to be addressed and provide inspiration for a future based on peace, justice, tolerance, collaboration, stability and safety,” he said.
The exhibition follows an agreement between Akinci and Anastasiades last February for the Turkish Cypriot side to return 219 paintings by Greek Cypriot artists and the Greek Cypriot side to hand over visual and audio recordings of Turkish Cypriot artists from their respective archives.
Many of the art works returned, which for over 45 years were perceived as lost or stolen, belong to well-known Greek Cypriot painters, such as George Pol. Georgiou, Stass Paraschos, Michail Kassialos, Stelios Votsis, Michalis Hadjidemetriou, George Kotsonis, Lefteris Economou, as well as Greek painters, including Yiannis Tsarouchis, Yiannis Moralis, Nicos Hadjikyriakos, Fotis Kontoglou and George Mavroidis.
The works were found in various houses and public places in Famagusta after 1974, including the municipal gallery and the town’s port.
The audio-visual material was archived at the state broadcaster and it covers the period between 1955 and 1963.
It includes social, cultural and sporting events of the Turkish Cypriot community, references to Turkish Cypriot artists and journalists who at that time either worked at the CyBC or took part in its programmes.
The art exhibition, “is more than just an exhibition”, said Greek Cypriot co-chair of the technical committee Androulla Vassiliou.
“The event sends a clear message, one of hope. It’s very symbolic because we reinforced the beautiful idea that there can be cooperation and friendship between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Giving back works of art is a symbol of peace.”
Turkish Cypriot co-chair of the committee Kani Kanol spoke of a “landmark event, which will hopefully help shape future talks between the leaders”.
“These are never-seen-before paintings, they represent a real breakthrough in the art world,” exhibition’s curator Yiannis Toumazis told the Cyprus Mail.
“We weren’t aware of the spectrum of the material we were dealing with and I can say it surprised us all.”
Toumazis said the return of the paintings “is as significant as the return of artworks confiscated and stolen by the Nazis in the 30s and in the 40s. This is not just art, it’s art coupled with history and we are all witnessing it.”
Only 60 paintings were on display at the exhibition at the Ledra Palace. However, Toumazis hinted at the possibility of organising an exhibition that will display all 219 paintings in March 2020 at the SPEL art gallery in Nicosia, but that is yet to be confirmed.
The whole project was funded by the European Commission and under the wing of the United Nations Development Programme.
Vassiliou underlined the importance of the project outside the world of art.
“It is no surprise that the return of the 219 artworks touched the souls of the Greek Cypriots and particularly the people of Famagusta. The purpose of art is to move the soul, to touch our emotions. Art speaks with feeling and to feeling,” she said.
“If you destroy culture, you destroy history and its identity. We could not let that happen.”