By Heidi Trautmann
I remember well the times when the doors between the two halves of the island opened. The artists from the South and the North met, not only for talks but for common activities in the buffer zone first, then for common workshops, outdoor activities to get to know each other, first exhibitions; and I’ll never forget the Art Aware Talks going on for months where artists of both communities had the possibility to presents their work and talk about their philosophy of life and their art, and about their experiences; it were meetings full of friendship, trust and comradeship: ‘we are artists and we know of no borders!’ I know it because I not only accompanied the meetings over eight months with my articles but also took part in it myself. Many bi-communal activities were started, to bring young people together, to do international art projects together, that was a good feeling, and for many of us the proof that artists know of no limitations. What an extraordinary event the Open Studios was, when art lovers crossed from one part of the capital city to the other and visited each other’s studios. Now, out of the blue, shortly before the presidential elections in the southern part of Cyprus, our art association EMAA (European Mediterranean Art Association) had to learn from a newspaperman of the unbelievable action of the new board of EKATE (Cyprus Chamber of Fine Arts) to end all cooperation with their colleagues in the North.
But please read the reply by EMAA as it was distributed in the media.
EMAA and its Relations with the South
The relationship between EMAA (European Mediterranean Art Association) and EKATE (Cyprus Chamber of Fine Arts) was born out of the demand for peace and co-habitation in the Island. Since 2003 when the checkpoints were opened, these two institutions ran numerous common projects that went a long way in the name of both peace and art. During the creation and execution of these various projects, the management of EMAA and EKATE behaved according to the principles of friendship, respect and mutual understanding by solving the problems that were encountered though dialogue and search for a common ground, and by knowing how to get over the problems and difficulties through alternative means of solution rather than getting lost in dead-end political discourses. The property issue that proved to be a great test for our relationship was solved within the possible paths paved for peace and friendship through the mutual dialogue we had with the board and president of EKATE at the time, Daphne Trimikliniotis.
We believe that this issue needs to be widely discussed and taken as a model for peace. The decision of the new board of EKATE to discontinue its relationship with EMAA due to the reason that the building EMAA uses as a center is a Greek Cypriot property forces us now to reconsider the relationship between the two institutions. Being fully aware of the space related hardships art associations face, we do not understand why EKATE is so adamant on the property EMAA uses, when they also made use of a Turkish Cypriot property as their center in the past. We believe that the property issue can only be resolved by reaching peace. At this point, our aim is to do what we can to yield peace, to reach inner peace by understanding each other and to constitute exemplary models for both communities. The new board of EKATE chose the easy way out by reproducing the national discourse of their state instead of behaving independently as one would expect from an art organization. We are disappointed that they did not approach us to discuss this issue but rather, went to the media and complained about us to their relevant ministry disregarding the years of dialogue and cooperation that the two associations have had. We know that the friendship and peaceful relations in the Island will not bloom out of the national discourses of both sides, and we believe that artists and intellectuals need to pave alternative ways for peace. The new board of EKATE is invited to reconsider their position on this matter. Until this day, the boards of EMAA and EKATE have taken risks on this difficult road and known how to stand up together to the problems generated by the political structures. However, the new board neither contacted EMAA to solve the problem together nor communicated their decision to EMAA officially. As the board of EMAA, we learned about their decision from a correspondent of the Politis newspaper after the news was already distributed by the Greek Cypriot press.
Such an action not only harms the friendship of two institutions but also it is unethical and damages the reputation of EKATE. As an art association, we place individualistic liberties and thoughts over institutional identities. We are convinced that the decision the new board of EKATE has taken does not reflect the thoughts of its members; therefore, the person-to-person relationships that were based on peace and friendship will continue. We are positive that the members of EKATE are having the necessary internal discussions about the matter. EMAA hopes that ETAKE will revise its decision and states that EMAA will continue executing common art projects with other art associations and artists to form stronger bonds of friendship. The Executive Board of EMAA I spoke to Daphne Trimikliniotis, former president of Ekate, that they will try to make the new board turn the wheel around again after 35 artists have protested against this action and that those are willing to continue cooperation and respect the unwritten law that ‘art knows no borders’.