Nicosia: a divided capital of Europe, a vibrant platform for local and international discussion and a very complex and interesting urban case study . Urban Gorillas in collaboration with local street artist, Twenty Three, brought to life a project displayed across the buffer zone in Nicosia.
Nicosia is the last divided capital in Europe after the conflict in 1974 where the buffer zone or ‘green line’ fiercely divides its old city centre. The old centre 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 city 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.
‘Baffle Zone’ aims not only to mirror the current circumstances of Cyprus, but also to encourage the public to personally engage in its current socio-political situation. Artist Twenty Three, paints a visual riddle, split in two, along the two sides of the green line, heartening the viewers to be interactive within the buffer zone, cross the checkpoints and map their city. In order to obtain the full wall mural and solve the riddle, one has to undertake a city stroll, transcend the physical barriers and connect the pieces. Once the image is pieced together, the visitors will be confronted with a visual maze. Under crucial socio-urban connotations and in reflection of recent re-unification talks of the island, ‘Baffle Zone’ proposes an interaction across the divide where the spectator merges the two parts of the mural to introduce an amalgamated web.
Twenty Three sought two parallel locations across the divide that have the same orientation. In this way, the first one defines the second one: if we mentally draw a line between the two parts of the mural, or through a bird’s eye view, the two murals would be connected.
Twenty Three and Urban Gorillas started identifying walls that are situated in streets away from the city ‘buzz’ and where the usual city suspects can be found. These spots offer the spectator further a place to contemplate upon the mural. On the southern part of Nicosia, the site chosen is a redundant archeological site that was recently appropriated by a group of active city residents and use for neighbourhood gatherings and communal gardening. On the northern side the wall is found along the Buffer Zone, in a redundant dead-end corner that is accessible from an alternative pub.
This gives the viewer the opportunity to create their own personal path in the city, to develop their own angle, to explore and search the location. The fact that the spots are not easily reachable, and that people have to search for it relates directly to the intention of the artist to provide a perspective that reminds us of the general situation across the island: a quest for the inexplicable Cyprus problem.
Urban Gorillas (UG) is a non-profit organisation run by a multi-disciplinary team of urban enthusiasts who envision healthy, creative and socially inclusive cities. UG contributes to sustainable urban living by enabling projects and actions that bring new energy and instigate change in city spaces and communities. UG transforms public spaces into lively and innovative hubs, cultivates civil society and impacts policies. UG fulfils its mission through pilot activities and concrete actions, extensive research, and bottom-up, low-cost, high-impact techniques. UG has experience in project management and coordination, research, and dissemination experience in the fields of community engagement through creative operations. UG’s projects tackle social inclusion through tangible actions in urban public spaces. UG has also a wide network of local volunteers and is associated with many youth groups.
Twenty-three is a visual artist currently based in Cyprus who has been active in the streets from 2012, expressing a keen interest in urban culture, his critique is firmly and wittingly expressed through a series of powerful works, that are composed of appropriations and juxtapositions of iconic images, symbols, and problematic representations. By mastering wheat paste and stencil techniques, twenty-three creates a visual language connected with the urban context while disrupting the main, loud narratives and throwing an image-thought attempting to counter them. Street artworks – mostly made of stencil or wheat paste – are found in Madrid, La Coruna, Brighton and Rome. An integral element of his work is the posing of questions, in relation to Cypriot identity and negotiating the relationship with social structures, history and tradition. Twenty-three has a strong focus on the politics of resistance in a postmodern environment around the globe.
Natalie Konyalian is a filmmaker and avid photographer based in Nicosia. She has worked on several short and feature length films in Cyprus, New York and Dublin. She also has vast experience working in community media, both as a filmmaker and as a trainer in video and radio production workshops for a number of civil society organisations. Natalie continues to work with local and international artists of different expertise and backgrounds, and both her photography and video work have been exhibited across Cyprus as well as the Maxxi Museum in Rome.