Over a breakfast of warm croissants in her yard, Elina talks about her newest passion project: several years-worth of carving Cypriot stone into wonderful sculpture. After sharing information about courses she teaches at the Department of Fine Arts of the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT), we depart for a stroll to discover this city’s cultural wealth and treasures.
Excavations through the past
Our first stop is the Archeological Museum on the corner of Lord Byron Street, directly across from the historic, colonial-style hotel, Curium Palace. “I often visit the Archeological Museum,” Elina confesses as we enter its courtyard. She enjoys lingering at the back garden where a collection of archeological finds resides: columns, antefixes, troughs, etc. “I take dozens of pictures every time,” she says, wielding her cellphone and directing my attention to every detail. The finds are an obvious source of inspiration to her. “Creative stimuli,” I ask? Elina nods in agreement as we head inside. “This museum is home to artifacts that cover all antiquity, from the 10th millennium BC until the end of the Roman period. Most finds were in the area of Amathounta,” she explains. Among them are clay figurines with ties to eastern influence, samples of pottery, sculpture, limestone statues, capitals, and metalwork. With our thirst for archeology quenched, we carry on to our next stop, the Municipal Gallery.
A view to the sea
As we get in Elina’s car, I ask for details about her new project. “Large sculpture carved in Cypriot stone,” she replies. “You must be among the few women in the world that sculpt in stone,” I remark, but she humbly sets my comment aside. Having studied in France and participated in many international exhibitions, including the Biennale, Elina has undoubtedly left her artistic imprint on the contemporary Cypriot art scene. I ponder this as we approach the coastal road where the sea looks completely surrendered to stillness. The large vessels in the distance transform the view into a painting. “Such a nice segue to the Municipal Gallery,” I quip, and Elina responds cheekily with a wink. 28th October Street: the gallery building, a unique architectural structure, was built “in 1938 by German-Jewish architect Veniamin Ginzburg, while another building was added on later,” Elina informs. Wandering the old building, we stumble upon all the pioneers of Cypriot art: Diamantis, Kashalos, Paraschos, Ioannides, Kanthos, Nicolaidou, among others. Their creations take us back to the genuine colours of the land and to the symbolic dimensions of another era. We depart for the new building to observe work from the most recent generation of Cypriot artists. They seem to have developed a more naturalistic, modern approach to painting. Just before we leave the gallery, Elina pauses to photograph a sculpture by famous Cypriot potter Valentino Charalambous. Meanwhile, in the garden, I turn my attention to sculptor Kyriakos Kallis’ “Bull” staged against a backdrop of the deep, blue sea.
Like the old movies
We stop at Plateia Iroon (Hero’s Square), the beating heart of culture in Limassol. The CUT, the House of Modern Dance, dozens of galleries reside here, while Limassol’s most important cultural institution, the Rialto Theatre, dominates the city centre. Built in 1933, the theatre was the first modern cinema in the country. The doors closed in the 1980s, then reopened in 1999, fully-renovated and preserving much from its glorious past. “Today it’s one of the most active cultural institutions in Cyprus,” Elina says, and then recounts all the concerts, festivals, theatrical plays, and dance performances she attended there. Performing arts by Cypriot artists and others from abroad compose Rialto Theatre’s cultural program. “Naturally, in summer we never miss open-air cinema nights that are organised in the parking area, as well as evenings with live music in Plateia Iroon.”
From Rialto Theatre, we walk to the junction at Ellados Street and Enoseos. In a 60s building, “unbelievably modern for its time,” Elina mentions, we find the exhibition space of NeMe Art Centre, an institution that focuses on modern art through research and dialogue between artists and cultural institutions in Cyprus and abroad. We agree on the fact that NeMe’s exhibitions are of particular interest as they present a more critical approach to art. “The neighbourhood that NeMe chose to house its exhibitions is of equal interest,” I say to Elina as we walk in front of small frame shops, glass workshops, and traditional carpentry shops that exhume the nostalgic scent of a bygone era.
Warehouses with a story
We cross Ayiou Andreou Street, a street with small souvenir shops, to our next stop, the Municipal Art Centre – Apothikes Papadaki (Papadakis Warehouses) on Stathis Papadakis Street. An old Cypriot coffee shop named To Adieksodo (The Dead End), drenched in pots of basil, is the best spot for coffee, but time is not on our side. “The story of the Papadakis Warehouses is reasoning enough for someone to visit. They are the oldest surviving warehouses in the city,” Elina tells me. They were declared as buildings of historical value (landmarks) in 1995 and stand as chronological links to the crossover from the Ottoman era to British rule. Their transformation into a cultural centre happened with absolute respect for their history. Today, the warehouses serve as an exhibition venue that aspires to unite the local arts scene with others from abroad. I take notes as we conclude our visit by admiring paintings from prominent Cypriot artist Nitsa Hadjigeorgiou.
Arcade of creators
“Once upon a time during the 90s it was a mall,” Elina mentions as we enter the Lanitis Arcade, also known as Agora Anexartisias (Independence Market). “When it started to fall apart, especially after the financial crisis, several artists began to move in and turn the shops into studios. Today, the result is that it is primarily inhabited by creators and craftsmen.” This is the exact place where artist Christodoulos Panayiotou, a world-renowned Cypriot artist with works housed in Centre Pompidou and the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, chose to create The Island Club, a non-profit arts centre with a unique aesthetic which hosts exhibitions from Cyprus and abroad. This move is the reason the arcade has earned a permanent spot on the map to cultural journeys!
From The Island Club we move on to our last stop on this cultural journey, the Eins Gallery. Opposite the well-known bar Library on Themidos Street, Tasos Stylianou, proprietor of Eins Gallery and the now-closed Peninta Plin Ena (closed in 2014), chose to transfer the artistic freshness that characterized the old gallery into a new space with unique architecture. In this new venue, through both solo and group exhibitions, Tasos aims to promote contemporary artists from Cyprus and abroad.
There was this cat
“Isn’t it time for that coffee,” I ask Elina? She agrees, saying, “I will take you to a very tasteful, little coffee shop that is a favorite with teachers and students of the School of Fine Arts,” named Le Chat (The Cat). Around the area of Panepistimiou Square and Giagkos Potamitis Street, in a relaxed-little coffee shop filled to the brim with artist types, we enjoy our Cypriot coffee and spoon dessert, thus ending our cultural journey... for now. Besides, you can never really end this journey...