A facelift of the capital

Six bare walls in the centre of Nicosia have undergone a complete transformation over the past two weeks, as part of an initiative instigated by the Research, Studies and Publications Services (RSPS) of the Cyprus House of Representatives.

Using the particularity of public art as a driving force, the intervention sees four local and two Greek artists make use of prominent bare facades to accommodate the House’s aspiration to leave traces upon the cityscape and in turn enrich our public property.

“About 15 years ago and with the aim of ‘opening its doors to the public’, the Parliament and the Research, Studies and Publications Service, began to organise various cultural and social events, some bigger than others,” reveals Avgi Lilli, Studies, Research and Publications’ officer and one of the individuals behind the initiative.

“The socio-economic and other changes we have been experiencing over the past couple of years [may have] pushed us to do the reverse.

Lilli said the effort would eventually “give something to the public, without inviting the public somewhere on a specific day and time; something which at the same time has a long- lasting value”.

The people behind the project adamantly stress that public art and oversized murals enhance the quality of life, as they pop out from between buildings of the city and generously offer to every resident and visitor.

“The greatness of public art is that it’s a public asset,” they say. Working alongside Lilli, Michalis Argyrou, also a Studies and Research officer at the House, clarifies that this isn’t the first time the RSPS has come forward to emphasise its presence outside of its official capacities.

“In the past, the Research, Studies and Publications Services have undertaken original actions… For example, the exhibition Politics and Caricature, in which Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot cartoonists participated, before the checkpoints were opened and the workshop WWI-WWII: 10 years of horror – 81 million lives lost in 2012 where an Auschwitz survivor and a survivor of Hiroshima’s atomic bomb attack were invited,” says Argyrou.

The mural project is the result of researching similar initiatives abroad.

“Outdoor public art creates or ‘births’ contemporary masterpieces; it’s not something new or strange and it’s not only found on old buildings or in deprived neighbourhoods,” says Lilli. “It’s also found on public institutional buildings, cultural institutions, etc.,” she adds.

The atrium of the House of Representatives has been decorated with a mural by Greek artist INO – the only indoor area being included in the current project, with the rest of the works remaining outdoors.

“Public art appropriates public spaces by practically taking advantage of them and ultimately providing their beauty to every passer-by who sees or stops to admire them and reflect upon them,” says Lilli.

“In this way, they escapes from the confines of a gallery space or a museum and are generously offered by the artists to each and every one of us; it becomes the property of all, whether a permanent resident or merely a passer-by,” she adds.

Having selected five outdoor locations, the team says there were difficulties behind finding a desired surface for artists to work on and also locations which would ‘speak’ to the public and leave a long-lasting impression.

“The truth is that it was difficult enough to find the right walls. Faces of buildings have to preferably be blank and without windows – they (also) have to have a good perspective [when viewed] from afar and not hidden. They need to be visible in a public area,” says Argyrou.

“Most buildings in Nicosia are not particularly high; they have many windows and rarely have bare sides and are very often covered with marble or stone. All these factors are a deterrent to public frescoes.

“So we started somewhat in reverse. First we defined the area – in the centre of Nicosia- and then we found a few walls suitable for use and attained permission from their owners, who we particularly thank for their cooperation,” adds Argyrou.

Despite the selection of two of Greece’s up-and-coming street artists for the projects, local artists have also been given an opportunity to express themselves on the city’s facades.

“We wanted to include local artists, so we essentially asked all Cypriot artists who have given examples of writing on these kinds of murals (frescoes in large and high areas) and not generally in street art or graffiti on smaller surfaces and other techniques. Today, we are collaborating with Paparazzi, Opsis and Pest (together with the Bane from Switzerland as Color Nomads),” says Argyrou.

“There are world-class muralists in Greece and we chose two exceptional artists, INO and Fikos, whose work suits the aesthetics of the works the House wanted to provide. Both warmly responded to our invitation and we are honoured to have them work in our city.”

Looking further into the future, the standing of the House of Representatives is that Nicosia can become a European regional urban centre of the south-eastern Mediterranean by re-shaping its identity: something it aspires to achieve through initiatives such as the one at hand.

Opting to do so, the RSPS appears to be helping create the deal circumstances to test the function of contemporary art in open public spaces, outside the ‘sealed’ specific museum spaces.

To this end, the initiative blooms within a crucial time frame, a time where re-shaping a cityscape can potentially be intimidating.

“The financial crisis has brought a crisis of values along with it, something which we all talk about… The international events which we experience on a daily basis, especially in the Mediterranean region, all confirm that the era we live in is characterised by momentous changes,” says Lilli.

“In this context, art not only remains as a constant value, but also as a modern and evolving form of fine art; public art is no longer exposed in a museum or a gallery but exists as a standalone entity in space. It is created by the same artists who, have been plagued by the crisis and can no longer “enter” or sell their work in galleries, hence go out onto the streets,” she adds.

“This phenomenon is an international one and masterpieces of world art are now amongst us. Athens is a prime example of this development. On a local level, we believe that the expected enthusiastic reconstruction of Eleftheria Square and its surrounding spaces defines the need for the development of public art in Cyprus,” concludes Lilli.

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London