Visual Essay on the Street Art in Cyprus

Urban Gorillas

Street art is not for eternity and for the museum but reacts to the now-ness of the given moment and a given constellation in the urban life of a specific city. Street art has mostly a poetic-political import. If we concede that street art advances our aesthetic sensibility, then we can argue that street art allows either the possibility of appreciation as art proper or that it transforms art into everyday life in the context of the modern big city.

Heinz Paetzold

This visual essay is a snapshot of the old walled city of Nicosia, capturing a moment in the urban space of the city through the perspective of its street art. Our strolling observation took us through the winding streets and back alleys of the city, tracing lines through and along the buffer zone, and north and south of the green line. Exploring these public spaces in our divided city we observed independent voices claiming free space to express themselves, in an attempt to be heard amid the mainstream flow of society. We could see how urban space becomes the platform where young groups and independent voices operate in a confrontational manner in the face of political, social and environmental concerns. The old centre of the capital is delimited by 5km of fortified Venetian walls, creating another island within the urban fabric of approximately 1.13 km2. Different layers of history and tradition are found in this delimited area, and street messages and slogans add another layer that relates mostly to the present, that is transient, and that confronts the fixed layers of history, politics, architecture and the societal status quo. This urban island is further divided by the physical boundaries of the green line; it is the part of the capital where this division is most prominent and a stroll is abruptly interrupted at different points by barrels, barbed wire or sandbags. The old walled city is a contested space where different social groups co-exist, and where contradictory lifestyles and expressions are manifested. Street art in the old city of Nicosia diminishes the strong physical symbols, such as the monuments, flags and churches, and provides a new reading beyond the the advertising commercials; it challenges the public to perceive another reality. Through our study of the old city we observed that street art as an artistic practice is still in its infancy, if we compare it with other capital cities; it is however a prominent forum for messaging, and the expression of independent concerns. We noted that there are differences in the concerns expressed by the two communities, which relate back to societal issues faced by each. We also keenly noted that there are distinct areas of concern coming through that are explored in our visual essay below, and to find a mix of languages being used, indicating collaboration among Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot artists. These groupings form further islands, isolated groups with unheard voices, or unpopular, marginalised opinions. Still, the various independent voices claim their piece of public space, and engage in a dialogue with the passer-by in an attempt to shift the political and social situations faced in the segregated communities.

Authors: Claudia Konyalian and Veronika Antoniou

[1] Heinz Paetzold (1941-2012) read this paper at the international conference on “Aesthetics and Art: Tradition and Presence” in Xuzhou, China on 21 May 2012.
[2] Iliopoulou E., Karathanasis P., Towards a Radical Politics: Grassroots Urban Activism in the Walled City of Nicosia, Cyprus Review, vol. 26:1 Spring 2014