VISUAL VOICES exhibition: The artists discuss
The "Crossing 24/31: I always confuse south to north, north to south" exhibition provides the opportunity to the Cypriot public, from both sides of the divide, to get to know local contemporary artistic creations from the perspective of these eleven artists as well as to observe the messages presented with a critical eye.
The exhibition was a result of the three-month peace education residency program organized by the Cyprus based NPO Visual Voices that brings together eleven Greek and Turkish Cypriot visual artists who explored the theme "Media and Nationalist Narratives".
Three of the artists, Irene Kattou, Fetine Sel Tuzeland Lenia Georgiou, discuss their art practice after the residency and how the residency influenced their work.
Irene: After the residency, how do you see yourself being affected as part of conflict?
Fetine: This residency has helped me realise that not all conflicts are bad, yet if we try making the conflict constructive it will become a positive influence. Through art we can create a space for this positive conflict to happen.
Irene: Do you think conflict is part of your identity, that in turn influences your work?
Fetine:Yes, I do. In fact, I believe that it takes a great part of my identity. I have not witnessed the war like my family, but I am living the aftermath. A different kind of sourness is following me.Do you believe that we should look back to solve the unsolved?
Irene: Yes definitely, because the same dynamics that brought conflict back then, are still involved today. Cypriot politics are structured using divisionism tactics of ultra-nationalism. I do not believe that history repeats itself, because to do so it means that there was a closure. No, history rhymes. Like a never-ending poem in the continuum of ‘crisis’, like a wave after the other.
Lenia:We should look back in order to know our history and our mistakes, but we should then look ahead/forward if we want to progress and make a change.Also, after the residency I feel the separation stronger than ever. I see myself wanting to cross the border more often to meet with Turkish Cypriots as I believe that this action helps us eliminate our mental and physical barriers. But how has the residency influenced you personally?
Fetine: Personally, this residency helped me connect with more Cypriot artists.
Irene:The residency has made me more resilient, to keep working towards a goal. It made me find the lost hope I was missing for a long time. There was a lot of emptiness I felt- coronavirus, personal issues, family issues, the rise of extremism. I felt for a long time that I was in a cloud. Art for me is not just creation, it is many times my salvation from myself.
Retrospectively, after the residency did you find yourself looking into past work and realising now that it was influenced by conflict without you ever considering it before?
Lenia:The way my generation experienced war is through narratives, images, songs, books, notebooks, barbed wire and borders. All these have constituted part of my identity that consequently influences my artistic practice too.I was always aware that what is happening inside and around me is influencing my art practice. That is why my artwork comments current social, political and cultural issues. Considering that the issue of relocation accompanies me from my early childhood and that of conflict in my country, my work is mostly concerned with issues of displacement, resettlement, and the basic human need of shelter.
Fetine:I always find my art driven into the old, the past (not my own past but the past of my family and my island). I feel the need to create art in this topic, as if it would help the current situation in Cyprus.Do you think art in Cyprus can change the current situation, break the walls in between and cut the wires off?
Lenia:I believe that art is the best form of revolution and change and in combination with human relationships, it can eliminate any wall.
Irene:It can untangle the wires of division that are in place in our minds. Political art in Cyprus is relatively a fresh concept in my opinion that has just recently been accepted in the wider community. This is because politics are still a very sensitive topic and often dissent from the central narrative are considered automatically anti- Cypriot and are ostracised. Art of this sort has the capacity to ignite discussions and open a pathway for unique perspectives and narratives, without the direct involvement of politics.
Lenia:How would you continue your practice related to conflict after this residency?
Irene:After the residency I believe that I will continue to work with conflict narratives. There are a lot of things that can be explored. But I am a scatter brain, I usually have 3 or more ongoing projects that I work on while are not related. So, it depends on my mood too and what I feel I want to showcase next.
Fetine: My art practice related to conflict will go on. I may change my main topic back to people and cities however I will continuously work on conflict whenever I have an idea in mind.
Has this residency created a different perspective on your point of view?
Irene: I would not necessarily say that it created a different perspective on my pre- residency point of view. But it has expanded it. It allowed me to have the resources and time to explore concepts and narrow down my research on specific embodiments, like the politics of family structure and its contribution to conflict narratives. This is also the thematic of the work I am presenting in the exhibition and more specifically, how motherhood has been appropriated in the politics of division.
Lenia: It has motivated me to continue and pursue more ideas and projects I have been thinking about a long time ago regarding conflict. Is it an ongoing theme in your practice or not and why?
Irene: In a way, my work was always about conflict- not necessarily explicitly about displacement and war. But it was always about conflicts inflicted on the body and the relationship of society and embodiment. Conflict fascinates me and I think I will continue to work with it for a long time, if not forever. I am a conflicted individual and I believe that this influences my art.
Fetine: This theme can be possibly an ongoing one for me, I still have not figured it out yet but working on archival materials is something I find very personal andbeautiful. Maybe I can try changing history through playing with old photographs.
Photo credit: Sergio Vaccaro
The art exhibition "Crossing 24/31: I always confuse south to north, north to south" will open to the public on 24 October and will continue until 31 October 2020 at the Goethe Institute of Cyprus, 21 MarkouDrakou, Nicosia. Follow Visual Voices on their social media @visual_voices.vivos