CULTURE

Green Line opened to art event

With the opening of the Green Line two years ago, thousands of Greek Cypriots were able to visit for the first time in nearly 30 years the territory they had been driven out from. A symbolic gesture leading the way towards the unification of Cyprus, it underlined the ethnic clash that has split the island in two and has posed a huge dilemma for the Cypriot population. With Cyprus a member of the EU and Turkey aspiring to be accepted in the future, the thorny Cypriot issue is pressing for a resolution. «Leaps of Faith,» an international arts project which begins Thursday at the Green Line and throughout the city of Nicosia, touches on sociopolitical matters related to the Cyprus issue through art, thus bringing an alternative discourse to a problem usually examined through hard-core politics. Curators Katerina Gregos and Erden Kosova have chosen 20 international and Cypriot artists who have shown they understand the notion of a contested area. The Cypriot artists – along with artists from Palestine, Israel, South Africa, Lebanon, Croatia and Bosnia – will create site-specific projects that will activate public areas in the divided city of Nicosia, foster participation and interaction, and encourage communication and exchange. Rana Zincair, a political scientist of Turkish-Cypriot descent, initiated the project about a year-and-a-half ago. Zincair’s experience lies in working with non-governmental organizations on issues of cultural policy. He achieved the very difficult task of obtaining permission from the UN for holding an art exhibition in the actual buffer zone. This is the first time in 30 years that a part of the UN-controlled Green Line was made available for an international art event. More points in the city were added as the project evolved with each artist choosing the location of his/her preference. The project also broadened to include a workshop, a conference and a number of parallel events that will take place throughout May. Although Gregos is Greek and Kosova is Turkish, no Greek or Turkish artists were included in the exhibition. «The exclusion of artists of Greek or Turkish nationality is more of a symbolic act of leaving out two countries who have exercised major influence in the area,» Gregos told Kathimerini English Edition. She added that the exhibition was supposed to «give voice to Cypriot artists.» The curators conducted broad-ranging research that enriched their insight on the history and culture of Cyprus. They also required that the artists conduct their own research and visit Nicosia at least once during preparations. Process is a key notion behind this project and so is experience and interactivity. That the works are site-specific is part of this approach. «We did not want to transplant ready works in a context that is heavily charged. This is a research-based and interactive project,» Gregos said. Several works require participation by the public and are meant as live experiences. For example, ARTLAB from Great Britain has staged a photo studio in the Green Line area where viewers walk in and take passport pictures of themselves. The photos serve as a symbolic metaphor of intrusion and division on the island. CALL#192, an arts group from Cyprus, will dispatch two buses from each side of the divided island, offering seats to Cypriots from both areas. The two buses will meet at the Green Line. Although this is an exhibition loaded with political connotations, Gregos says that the works presented are not about the Cyprus issue – at least not in the narrow sense – but more so about the city of Nicosia and the notion of division. «As a result of realpolitik, other sociocultural issues such as gender and class issues, minority rights, de-regulated urban expansion or economic and sexual exploitation of immigrants have been sidetracked,» Gregos said. An example is the work of Serap Kanay, a black Turkish-Cypriot, who researches the origins of black Cypriots, a part of the island’s population that is not that well known. «Leaps of Faith» is also about diversity and a multidisciplinary approach. The inclusion in the exhibition of artists from various backgrounds – musician Phil Collins and fashion designer Hussein Chalayan are examples – provides a sense of the kind of openness that the exhibition has to different perspectives. Gregos and Kosova had this kind of open-ended approach and non-nationalistic perspective in mind from the start. «It has been a great learning experience because you realize that what you have been taught is a selective version of history,» Gregos said. «The truth is not propagated by the master narratives, whether the Greek or the Turkish. There is a whole grey area in between and this is usually where the truth lies.» «Leaps of Faith» will most probably be a learning experience for its viewers and participants. It may not bring about direct change or have a practical effect but then this is really not what art is about. «Art cannot change the world but is extremely important and powerful in a more insidious way,» Gregos said. «It engenders communication and serious thought and shapes the way in which we perceive the world. «Art is the least biased and offers the most ‘humanitarian’ perspective on political issues,» she added. «I really believe that art is the last bastion of free expression in a world that is becoming homogenized.» «Leaps of Faith» will not unite Cyprus or provide political resolutions. Instead, its intention is to communicate a sense of faith in communication, co-habitation and a peaceful future for the island. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, Kolektif Productions and Artists-and-Artists are project partners in the «Leaps of Faith» project. Website: www.leaps-of-faith.com. From May 13-29.