Ancient sites around the island boast impressive mosaics. Paul Lambis speaks to a young woman working with grains of Cyprus history to bring the skill alive for a new generation
Art has long been an effective means for cultures to communicate their identity, beliefs and traditions. In an era characterised by rapid globalisation and modernity, it is critical to consider the continuing legacy of traditional art forms and the relevance of their preservation.
For Strovolos, Nicosia-based mosaic artist Loucia Serghiou, a pivotal moment occurred in 2015 when she travelled to the ancient Italian city of Ravenna to attend the Contemporary Mosaic Biennale to focus on the craft, and eventually perfect it.
“I was instantly captivated,” she said. “I understood that mosaic art is a visual language that can be functional, decorative, conceptual and experimental and, maybe all at once.”
But perhaps Serghiou’s visit to the exhibition was simply the validation she needed to focus her artistic talents on mosaic making, aligning with her beliefs about preserving one of Cyprus’ traditional art forms providing a link between the past and present. “Our traditions are worth preserving as they foster community and give a sense of continuity in our lives.”
Serghiou recognises the value of community since she has been instrumental in engaging members of her own community in creative and productive projects.
After studying Fine Arts at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, she worked as an art workshop supervisor for the Ayia Skepi Therapeutic Community, a non-profit rehabilitation programme for people struggling with long-term substance abuse.
After discovering many scrap tiles, and realising that certain members of the programme had technical building skills, Serghiou introduced a collaborative initiative, culminating in the production of complex and vivid works of art. “We were self-taught in a way,” she said. “Together we introduced a series of mosaics and until now, I am very proud of the work that was accomplished.”
Serghiou said it was during this time that she became interested in traditional mosaic art, particularly that of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, “which have a visual flow that can easily be mistaken for being effortless although requiring time and patience to achieve.
“On the contrary, this is far from the truth as there are many rules, both technical and visual that need to be taken into account,” she added.
Despite her attempts to educate herself in the art of mosaic making, it was not until her visit to Ravenna and subsequent studies in Mosaic Art at the Mosaic School Spilimbergo in Italy – while also learning to speak Italian – she was able to reach the level she is currently at.
In 2020, after completing her studies, Serghiou decided to open her own workshop in Nicosia, where she now works as a full-time mosaic artist.
As an artist maintaining a traditional craft, she has been actively engaged in producing works of art that reflect the island’s cultural heritage that offer a concrete link to the island’s past.
“The nurturing of traditions allows both us and visitors of the island to see, experience, relate and connect to our culture and history in a way which can spark meaningful conversation about current topics and future actions,” she said. “By cherishing and perpetuating these art forms, communities strengthen their cultural cohesion and foster a sense of pride and belonging.”
She is concerned though that we live in a fast-paced culture in which most people’s homes include mass-produced objects rather than original pieces of value. “Traditional objects contain small moments in time that convey a sense of connection, identity and belonging. They bring warmth, style, a grain of our rich history, and the emotional potency of a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind product.
“Another area of concern is that we live in an age with a surplus of visual stimulation and products, and in order to experience tradition, we need to slow down, consciously engage, and immerse,” she added.
Serghiou also believes that it is critical to conserve traditional handicrafts as a source of inspiration for future generations. “The disappearance of knowledge of traditional handicrafts from our world will undoubtedly damage the wealth of the world we bequeath to the next generations,” she said.
“If the younger generation is less interested in these traditional art practises, it is because they have had less exposure to them. We need to look at tradition with new eyes and integrate it into modern life to inspire the next generation to engage with it,” she said.
While preserving the traditions of the past, Serghiou is working on more experimental and personal work, which she hopes to present soon.
Her greatest accomplishment to date has been organising her own studio and doing what she loves on her own terms. “Since opening my doors to the public earlier this year, I have encountered many enthusiastic and curious people who approach me and give me the motivation to continue,” she said.
“As word of mouth spreads, I am pleasantly surprised to see the response slowly increasing, to see people getting inspired by my work and to trust me to bring their ideas to fruition.”
When it comes to passing on her knowledge and mosaic skill, Serghiou maintains that her studio doors are always open to individuals who are curious about mosaic making or simply want to explore the wonderful world of mosaics. “I am always happy to answer any questions about the different types of mosaic styles, materials, or techniques,” she added.
“My greatest moment is yet to come, but I am trusting in the process and looking forward to what the future will bring.”