Introduction

Using texts by Diane Bolger (Beyond Male/Female: Recent Approaches to Gender in Cypriot Prehistory) as a starting point, NeMe invited curator, Areti Leopoulou, has proposed an exhibition and seminar which responds to the historical preconceptions of Cypriot Figurines from the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age. Leopoulou has made a selection of works by Cypriot and Greek artists which have inherent, although in many cases, oblique references to ancient gendered figurines whilst remaining clearly within a contemporary critical and interdisciplinary platform.

Co-organised by NeMe and the Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki, Ambiguous bodies: timeless interpretations aims to present a variety of contextual outcomes based on recent more fluid understanding of gender, thus re-examining the dualistic and androcentric narratives of prehistoric Cypriot archeology. These figurines represent qualities which exceed separate spheres of male and female identities based on rudimentary biological difference as Diane Bolger affirms, “… the gender ambiguity of Cypriot prehistorical idols … their visible indifference to stereotypic beauty… are not beautiful but are possibly symbols of empathy and equality.”

Curatorial Statement

Since the ancient times it has become obvious that the human body is a timeless institution of, not only life, but actually a decisive factor of shaping cultures.

The perception of the body, in particular, may be a main core of the human existence: the body is perceived in common or differentiated ways from era to era, changing through new cultural circles, switching identities, becoming an eternal experience depot, focusing on new roles and innumerable representations via artistic creation -from the first time that human presence is documented on earth.

Using as an inspirational foundation the Cypriot prehistoric figurines, and in particular the notable lack of clarity regarding their gender indications, 13 artists, assuming the role of “creative archaeologists”, were invited to creatively approach this major interpretive issue, which today employs to a large extent, post-cultural theory: gender, the body and its sex, the ambiguity (or refusal) of gender, as it has been shaped and formed for centuries.

From prehistory to today, probably the most common, simple, and yet complexed element of nature, is the human body; the ultimate fountain for any identity and the structure of every civilization. Thus, from the vague (yet also open to interpretation) representations of antiquity and up to the 3rd wave of Feminism and to Post-modernism, gender, body and its ambiguous or clarified identity, remain fundamental issues, constantly revolving their interpretive and sociological strategies.

Ambiguous bodies: timeless interpretations invited artists from Greece and Cyprus to investigate the gender’s traditional and post-traditional perspectives through their media such as sculpture, installations, new or traditional media works, and share their visions and approaches to the divine or mortal nature of the human body, its idealisation and disillusion and its concept and identity, beyond-gender.

Additionally, theoretical approaches by academic researchers on an interdisciplinary basis, accompanied the exhibition, attempting to palpate what is reflected as complexed and inexhaustible: post-interpretations of gender, both historically and sociologically.

Participating Artists

John Bardakos, Glitch Artists Collective, Vaso Hadjoulli Sergiou, Elina Ioannou, Niki Kanagini, Akis Karanos, Maria Lianou, Virginia Mastrogiannaki, Natasha Papadopoulou, Michalis Papamichael, Alexandros Plomaritis, Charalambos Sergiou, Panikos Tembriotis

Seminar abstracts

Diane Bolger

Beyond male and female: recognizing ambiguity and diversity in Cypriot prehistoric art

Because the archaeological record of prehistoric Cyprus is rich in remains of figurative art, and particularly in anthropomorphic representations, it provides fertile ground for gendered debate; however, the social significance of this important body of material cannot easily be understood. The lack of detailed contextual evidence for all but the most recently excavated examples, due to poor recording methods in earlier generations, as well as their illicit trade on the antiquities market, hampers sound interpretations and has fostered a variety of conflicting views that cannot often been substantiated. In addition to problems of provenance and context, there has been a strong tendency to conjure up ill-founded images of these early figurative works as formative examples of Goddesses, culminating in the romantic view of Cyprus as the Island of Aphrodite known from Classical times. The ‘goddess narrative’ has come under sharp criticism in recent years, both in Cyprus and elsewhere, and has been largely rejected in recent scholarly research. In this talk I will consider examples of Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age figurines in Cyprus from the perspectives of Third Wave gender studies, which enable us to move beyond binary constructs of male and female identities and embrace concepts of ambiguity, diversity and change.

Evanthia Tselika

Excavating hard drives: Glimpses of female Cypriot bodies and voices in an ambiguous order

For the last eight or so years I have been gathering stories and images from Cyprus which relate to female ancient deities, women who lived in Ottoman times, twentieth century working women groups, women marches, contemporary female migrant activists, women residents in state housing. Some of these relate to personal, research or visual interests and some have arisen through explorations with different collaborators. This presentation will interweave some of these moments to reflect on how we understand body and voice in how we interpret the image of woman in Cyprus. Digging through my hard drives I stitch together a narrative to think of the ambiguous of Cypriot feminines and feminisms.

Diana Georgiou

Stereotypically Ambiguous: exploring the associations between ambiguity and queer bodies.

Considering how the term ambiguity has been linked to the representation and social relations of queer bodies, I aim to contextualize ambiguity through a reading of Simone De Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity. Drawing from this philosophical work, I explore how ambiguity might or might not be a productive term, especially when it relates to queer and feminist bodies in live art. The presentation will showcase forms of political and social resistance employed by transnational queer and/or feminist artists – exposing issues of censorship, pornography and sexual and gender discrimination and how these have been tackled by artists who employ post-porn, genderfuck, fat/sex/body-positivity and other queer-feminist practices.

Credits

Curator: Areti Leopoulou
Photography: Evdokia Georgiou
Exhibition organisers: NeMe & the Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki
Seminar organisers: NeMe & the Department of Fine Arts, Cyprus University of Technology

Sponsors

Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture, Medochemie