August 26, 2013
In Cyprus, Manifesta 6 Is Just A Symptom
Did a recurring clash of cultures halt the plans for an international art festival?
The recent cancellation of Manifesta 6, the international art exhibition scheduled to take place this fall in Nicosia, could have been predicted by the failure of another municipal gesture toward dialogue and exchange, a pedestrian bridge built last fall in the Old City, which I reported on for the June issue of Metropolis.
Manifesta 6 would have placed an experimental arts school modeled after Josef Albers and Buckminster Fuller’s Black Mountain College—which produced some of the mid-20th century’s most radically innovative artists—on both sides of the divided city. But the challenges facing Manifesta were of a magnitude far greater than what the local government and the international art world were equipped to deal with.
It appears that the Manifesta project foundered on plans to use a part of the money invested by the Greek Cypriot government for an artistic base of operations in the Turkish-occupied north—a simple enough matter unless you consider the complicated questions of sovereignty that govern the island. I don’t doubt that Michael Zampelas, the Greek Cypriot mayor behind many of these well-intentioned efforts, has his heart in the right place. But these small-scale attempts by the municipal government to bridge the gap are destined to fail as long as the national government insists on keeping the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus internationally isolated.
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The brutal expulsion of Greek Cypriots from the northern half of the island during the 1974 Turkish invasion was a great crime, but the continuing isolation of the Turkish Cypriots is an ongoing tragedy. The intransigence of the Greek Cypriot republic toward every effort to engage in dialogue or broker a solution suggests that it’s time for the south to accept responsibility for the military dictatorship that spurred the invasion and subsequent occupation of northern Cyprus and for the international community to take steps to recognize the Turkish Cypriot government. I’m sure that the Turkish Cypriot authorities would be happy to provide all the necessary permissions for Manifesta to go on.
The pedestrian bridge abandoned on the edge of the barricades in Nicosia’s Old City, along with the rejected treaty spearheaded by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan two years ago—and now the ruins of Manifesta 6—are just miniscule pieces in the pile of wreckage that is the contemporary history of Cyprus. But they’re instructive of how the extreme orthodoxy of the Greek Cypriot republic’s posture of toward the north is perpetuating an ongoing cultural catastrophe: the gradual destruction of a great city.