If a tour of a city’s neighbourhoods unfolds its personality, then the Art in its streets reveals the sense and sensitivity of its inhabitants.
Text: Ioanna Christodoulou
It is not the first time walking through the streets of Nicosia that my gaze has been captured by large murals. However, it is my first time being accompanied by street artist Twenty Three, one of the artists who ‘dress’ the capital with meaning and colour. “I guess that the name Twenty Three has a story?” I ask him during the first minutes of our meeting as we watch a group of youths skateboarding in a central part of the city. “The reason I chose this pseudonym has to do with coincidences in my life that relate to this number,” he enigmatically replies. As we head towards Faneromeni Street, we discuss his work titled Alasia Struggles, a stencil mural that adorns a wall of Pallouriotissa Lyceum. He explains the significance of the name ‘Alasia’, which many historians consider to have been the prehistoric name of Cyprus, and remarks how vital it is for young people to come into contact with art. As we continue our walk, we end up on Onasagorou Street and turn right into one of the side streets that connect it to Ledras Street. Rising in front of us is a wall dominated by High & Dry and signed by Opsis, an artist primarily active in the city of Limassol.
Audacity becomes Art
My memories of the 80s and 90s are generally a prevailing perception that street art had more to do with audacity if not vandalism. Back then, there were no unwritten rules nor the respect shown by the street artist community today. “It is a fact that for several years this form of art was not accepted, but our society has changed. Through our contact with street art abroad, many artists, like myself, returned to Cyprus with new ideas, fresh attitudes, and, among other things, a regard for the urban landscape. A self-aware artist now knows his limits, such as that the defacement of other people’s property is unacceptable and understands the need to respect the work of others,” notes Twenty Three. It is now apparent that respect and regard for one another helped promote the acceptance of street art by government agencies and other institutions. The mural festival organized by the House of Representatives in 2016 appears to have played a vital role in this.
The dawn of the millennium laid the groundwork for the structure we now call the ‘Cypriot community of street art’. Talented young people began to sign their work in public spaces, drawing passersby to stop to look, often to admire and even ponder. For the last decade, Twenty Three has been part of this community, bringing the experiences and knowledge from places he visited and worked at. Works bearing his signature have been displayed in Madrid, Rome and Mexico and have made the best of impressions. “My travels and experiences continue to inspire me. Every street artist, along with their signature, carries their experiences, ideas and perceptions of the world…”
On Ledras Street, we pause in front of a characteristic piece of stencil art that has been a fixture of the road since 2020. It is signed Eiva and portrays a refugee child whose face is half covered by the pandemic mask. A little further down, on Grammou Street, I admire a typical Fikos, an artist with a unique style who has distinguished himself around the world through his giant murals. This particular work depicts King Onasagoras, Ledra, Lefkos and Lefkosia as a woman divided in two, as is the capital of Cyprus.
As we walk through the narrow streets to Eleftheria Square, the distinct creation of Bane & Pest titled Comeback catches my eye. On Omirou Avenue, where the old town separates from the new, one can find the stunning spray-painted mural Venus Defaced of Aphrodite looking down on the recently renovated square. It is obvious its creator is IΝΟ.
Alas, with street art, you never know when a painting will reach the end of its life. As Twenty Three informs me, in the last two years, the imposition of restrictive measures due to the pandemic brought the birth of new works to a grinding halt, while ‘erasing’ many of them. Recently, however, the street artist community has again begun to stir, strengthening with the addition of new creators.
One of the most striking street artworks is by RockTheDog on the bustling Kyrenia Avenue in Aglantzia, depicting a woman in prayer. Next, our walk brings us to commercial Stasikratous Street, where there reigns a mural by Fikos representing the ancient lyric poetess Gorgo from the island of Lesvos. Finally, intending to finish our tour in the old town, we arrive at the lovely area of Taktelkale to admire a stencil by Twenty Three, with the other half on the other side of the Green Line. At this point, I must mention his impressive artwork on the floor of the basketball court of Ayios Andreas Αthletic Park just outside the walls of Οld Nicosia. “It was made in collaboration with Visual Voices and Peace Players Cyprus, and it was a project we really enjoyed,” he explains.
Leaving the centre, we end driving by a wall bearing the signature of the artist Paparazzi, in an area buzzing with students and young people alike. Located on Porphyriou Dikaiou Street and specifically at The Garrison Grill & Bar in Engomi, the work refers to Netflix’s well-known series Peaky Blinders.
“What is the most important thing that street art has to offer?” I ask my guide just before we part ways. “It prompts people to engage in public debate. And in this day and age, it is very much needed.”
One cannot refer to the murals of Nicosia without including the characteristic artwork in the inner courtyard of the Cypriot Parliament, which portrays Solon and Pericles. Albeit visitable only by special permit, INO, one of the best-known street artists, has put his signature in the atrium of the House of Representatives.