As a nation, we Cypriots, still have a long way to go in our struggle to outgrow the lull of a claustrophobic political stalemate, the xenophobic social stasis and the isolationist, absent of dialogue, commodifiable, object orientated cultural environment which presently exist.
Turning our attention to fostering a mature intelligent cultural environment, able to communicate effectively locally and internationally and capable of making important decisions regarding our cultural future requires a well informed and proactive participation based on integrity and transparency especially the willingness of those who wield the decision making power to fully inform and be accountable in the public sphere. Most importantly, it requires the active involvement and support of the public which can only be generated with an increased educational and informative agenda. This requires courage, civic awareness and money.
Government Lottery money, designated for both the arts and sport by its own agenda, is flowing and generous for mediocre sports activities and sporting facilities but not for the arts especially contemporary experimental arts. It is clear that the fairness of distributing Lottery money should be done with greater responsibility however it will take a change in the Government’s attitude, rather than an increase in the sale of scratch cards, to affect the situation. Convincing our Ministers of the imperative to implement a “vision” of cultural development beyond athletics is a task which must be adopted by many not just a couple of enthusiastic employees at the Department of Cultural Services. This is the only means if we are to ensure that contemporary experimental arts are to be widely embraced by Cypriots in the future.
Within this context, Manifesta 6 presents us with a great opportunity and springboard for this most necessary change, a chance which should not be missed. From a local perspective, the cultural environment will benefit enormously from the influx of individuals and ideas a large scale exhibition brings to town exerting a great motivation and influence on the existing contemporary art scene. Not only will it situate relevance to local experience but it will also create a point of distinction internationally. M6’s proposal of an art ‘school’ can lay the foundation for this most crucial change. Let’s support and utilise this opportunity as a springboard to renew our demands from the Ministry of Education and Culture to cease postponing and actively implement the long ago promise of a fully accredited National Arts School.
Perhaps this focus will strengthen many voices to also demand a new specifically designed Museum of Contemporary Art. Unfortunately the proposed Museum of Contemporary Art has been allocated an existing building opposite Famagusta Gate, to be revamped into inappropriate functionality by the technical services of the Ministry and already too small to show a comprehensive collection of works now stuffed into warehouses. Some villages have been promised newly designed sports facilities but regrettably the National Museum of Contemporary Art is not perceived by our Ministers to be of enough importance to inspire their support to launch a national competition for a contemporary specifically designed structure in spite of the fact that our present Minister of Education and Culture is an architect.
The existing funding of musical and theatrical “virtuosities” of international ‘has beens’ represent the misuse of financial support in order to maintain cultural sanctions reinforcing the existing cultural slumber and outmoded cultural relations founded on and still firmly entrenched in nepotism and under the table favours. Judging by the banality of past events as well as the ideologically stagnant and cliché cinema which guarantee substantial financial support from major government and semi-government sponsors, it would not be incorrect to observe that the objective is to maintain their sovereign powers to neutralise and suppress any desire for the experimental and innovative ‘other’. But then again, the justification is always “how can we consider the future when we haven’t resolved the past”?. What we haven’t realised as a community is that being locked in the past means that we can never have a balanced perspective to resolve it in a manner that guarantees and generates a constructive future. We are imprisoned in a state of nostalgic grief which prevents the acceptance of fresh, innovative conceptual thinking. Taking refuge in the past encourages a community of cynical spectators who, feeling orphaned by the future, glorify victimization and suffering as a civic duty and public virtue.
Proposals such as the one made by the curators of Manifesta advocate experimenting with new social relations and understanding via cultural discourse and related events. This has not been met by most people with the enthusiasm and support it deserves. Perhaps it is tempting to reject a more open and experimental cultural proposal especially when one does not feel informed. A large scale exhibition with an emphasis on the public sphere and invitation to public debate continuing hopefully well after the event, involves a long political and planning process beyond the specific organizational aspects pertinent to the event. This is where we fall short. With the exception of appearing at press conferences and art openings most of our politicians and public servants are neither capable of evaluating the political and social gain of a cultural event of such proportions nor are most of them capable of implementing an advantageous planning process with its crucial aim to endow Cyprus with the maximum cultural benefit. Even with their high profile preference for sporting activities, our government officials still fail to recognise and support excellence. Marcos Baghdatis, our only internationally recognised tennis player, who reached the Davidoff finals recently in Basel, Switzerland and is now ranked 56th in the world receives a token miniscule financial support, ridiculously neglectful by internationally standards considering he is Cyprus’s best ambassador at present and embodies the potential to upgrade our international reputation, a remedy greatly needed. This requires the public acknowledgment of quality as well as the shift of the control of funds from the hands of a few to those who really deserve it. Herein lies our problem.
What is also a frightening prospect is that Manifesta will come and go and the cultural scene will remain the same. We cannot afford to allow this to happen. It does not matter whether we are invited to show in Manifesta or not, we still have at our disposal, an environment conducive to implement our participation on a wider scale by organising our own parallel collaborative events as well as participating in events and discussions organised by M6. The issue here is not money, career opportunities and personal kudos but real and dynamic changes within our cultural environment. The residues of energies resulting from disenchantment with officially funded events and selection processes should be focussed into positive collaborations and events at the street level. Don’t wait for the initiative from above, the chances are that it won’t come.
Manifesta 6 will hopefully create a large scale audience for independently created spaces as well. The cultural atmosphere will be animated with a discourse never experienced before in Cyprus. We should take advantage of this dynamic and try to implement the much needed changes in our cultural environment. Here will be an opportunity to establish an engagement with the wider and fragmented public generating a dialectic in opposition to the existing cultural and political hegemony. An oppositional discourse which is based on self-organisation and self-articulation. Participating in exhibitions is good but an active participation in an ongoing transformative cultural dialogue is so much better and so so necessary.
Helene Black is an artist and a founding member of NeMe