An open-air cinema enlivens the Cypriot no-man’s land
On the unusually cool night of Friday, September 10th, people gathered around the space of an open-air cinema, between the Cypriot towns of Deryneia and Famagusta, for the opening of the work of the internationally renowned Italian artist and cinematographer Rosa Barba.
Reminiscent of a ritual site, the organic shape of the amphitheater formed a complete circle around a rectangular metal frame. On the screen a herd of fish swims among amphorae at the bottom of the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Sea has a long history as a connecting route for trade and cultural exchange between East and West, but it also marks the separation between North and South. In Cyprus, a 180-kilometer "Buffer Zone" also separates North and South and is the starting point for Rosa Barba's artistic intervention.
The project started seven years ago, when Barba was invited to create an artwork in Cyprus by the Point Center for Contemporary Art in Nicosia and curator Mirjam Varadinis.
"We chose Rosa because it was obvious through her work that she could be interested in Cyprus from its anthropological, geopolitical dimension," explained Andre Zivanari, director of the Point Center for Contemporary Art. Following this visit, the artist proposed to build an open air cinema sculpture in the Buffer Zone, continuing the exploration in her artistic practice of landscape and human intervention in nature. Barba initiated the idea of an amphitheatre with a permeable screen, on which films could be watched from both the southern and the northern side. "In all my works, I like to have this permeable screen, where the viewer can see the film from both sides, where you use your body to navigate around it. " It is more a sculptural idea," said the artist. Working within this political landscape, she sought to counterbalance existing images of conflict with emphatic expression of solidarity and openness, thus transforming the image of division into a shared experience.
In parallel to the open air cinema, she created a film entirely shot in Cyprus, " Inside the Outset: Evoking a Space of Passage (2021)". The film won first prize in the Italian Council International Competition (Third Edition) in 2018 and was awarded a grant by the DGAAP (Directorate-General for Contemporary Art and Architecture and Urban Regions) in Italy.Through its poetic maneuvering of the island’s politically charged landscapes, the film subverts its Aphroditesque persona. The camera, through its liquid honesty, wades through and comments on the serrated tautness between the captured, the capturing, the captivated, and the captivating. The film also includes underwater shots of the Mazotos shipwreck, as well as aerial shots of archaeological sites and follows Barba’s artistic approach of examining liminal states which manifest in between contested spaces, both mentally and geographically, in order to offer a new perspective.
"At first we thought of the Buffer Zone area near Mammari village North of Nicosia as a possible location, but it was very difficult due to obstacles set by the U.N. Over time, we contacted the U.N again through the Italian embassy, when we had already received funding and completed the film and were looking for a way to implement the idea of cinema. The U.N referred us to Deryneia Municipality and the Famagusta Avenue Garage, (center of inter-communal activities of Deryneia supported by the UN). Thus, through the Municipality of Deryneia we managed to ensure access to the Buffer Zone, something not at all easy. The truth is that the project became a reality because it was the wish of many people ", Ms. Zivanari explains. The artist has envisioned the purpose of this outdoor intervention to serve as a meeting point for members of all communities on the island.
"It was a complex project. Archaeologist Stella Demesticha gave us permission to film the under water shipwreck in Mazotos.It was the first time she gave filming permission to anyone outside her team. And that was the beginning, at every level, we had to be able to integrate a lot of important people into the vision. All stages were a challenge. It is the first time that a work with such a political dimension is realized and I believe in the power of art, to be able to challenge, to be able to bring communities together. For it to remain active it must be activated by both communities. That was the idea from the beginning, that was Rosa's vision and we realized it based on this. "
For the construction of the open-air Cinema, the artist focused on incorporating the theatre into Deryneia’s natural environment, avoiding materials alien to the landscape. In collaboration with architect Maya Shopova, Barba worked with rammed earth material on site. “Because it is the first construction in the Buffer Zone since 1974, I did not want to impose a structure that is a building, it should be something that does not use exogenous materials, something that can disappear again. Thus, everything was made from the earth itself. We dug the ground and used it at the same time to compress it into a temporary structure, so the seats may eventually disintegrate in the coming years. My work generally deals with time, continuous transformation and progress. "If someone decides that this structure should stay, then it can stay, but maybe it will no longer be necessary, if one day the island is open and united", Rosa explains.
Point Center for Contemporary Art is collaborating with Famagusta Avenue Garage and an advisory group of artists from both sides of the Buffer Zone to develop a program of activities. Its intention is to highlight the ability of the arts to create spaces of interaction and coexistence. The open-air cinema will be expanded as a long-term project available to the Municipality of Deryneia and the artistic and film making communities of Cyprus to launch a multifaceted dialogue.
"There is a force behind supporting art production in Cyprus. It is easier to realise projects in Cyprus because we are a small place, things can be done on this basis. We gain so much by doing these collaborations. There is immediacy in carrying out a project without intermediaries, precisely because the team involved is small in number. A large museum would not have the ability to work on a project for eight years. They understand that the institutions that are not in the system, the 'independents', have much higher chances to produce", Ms. Zivanari emphasizes.
"To see the Buffer Zone, otherwise known. As No-mans Land, to breathe again with the creation of a gathering place for the island’s communities, for us is something unique. We were very happy to see that as a bi-communal center we can become the channel between the artist's goals for transforming the Buffer Zone into a common experience. The whole process of implementation of this innovative project, but also the inauguration itself with the presence of a large number of people from both communities, proved once again that this island is too small to be separated. There is a great will from a large portion of the world from both communities to develop relations between them and the appropriate political will is needed to encourage these contacts and create appropriate safe spaces," said the Famagusta Avenue Garage team.
The aim is for the open-air cinema to develop into a space of gathering, cooperation, creation and mutual understanding between the communities of the island, to be utilized to the fullest by artists, cultural groups, young people, civil society organizations and all those who believe in a united and peaceful Cyprus of the future. The goal is to be able to host screenings and performances that promote peace and cooperation on a regular basis, creating a stable audience from both communities, while also offering alternatives to the people in the area. Many organizations, as well as artists, have communicated and expressed their intention and interest to organise cultural activities in the open-air cinema.
Eleni Papadopoulou is a photojournalist in Nicosia, Cyprus