Meet Y/Our Wall
Nicosia’s “green line” has turned into a symbol and is interpreted in many different ways (e.g. “The last divided capital of Europe” motto). The project aims to achieve a more democratic production of narratives of Nicosia’s dividing wall through photographic explorations of the wall. With the participation of the community, an alternative narrative to the existing hegemonic discourses is exposed.
The affiliated collective for this project is Old Nicosia Revealed, which, for the last 5 years, has been active in exploring and revealing Nicosia in a community-participatory manner by using photography heavily as a medium for a better understanding and appreciation of Nicosia, and thus, fostering a better dialogue within the community.
The project invites people to see and feel through discussion walks on history, features and stories of the wall, accompanied by a photographic perspective and activity. A supportive preparatory workshop on photography, community media and community building is also given. Participants were invited to take part in the sensitising photo walks. Moreover, the wider public joins the photographic creation by and sending their works to the team of Old Nicosia Revealed.
The preparatory workshops and the photo walks contribute to equalizing and encouraging members of the community in two ways. Firstly, in terms of closing the gap between photographer-artist VS inexperienced in photography/amateur photographer; and secondly, also bridging between experienced / authority historian VS an average citizen without the right to have a voice on history narrative formation.
To create the exhibition’s photo-material, photos of the dividing wall are first pasted on walls all over the old towns of several cities of the island. In a second step, the participants of the photo-walks take pictures of those locally spread out photo displays.
This strategy of wall displacement represents the complicated spatial relationship between the Nicosia buffer zone, and the many other parts of Cyprus where the buffer zone (and its complexities) is out of sight but surely present.
- Display at the Participation Matters exhibition
Interview with Natalie Hami (Old Nicosia Revealed)
By Olga Yegorova, on 22/11/17
Olga: You have been selected to take part in R! with a particular work, but what characterizes your art more in general?
Natalie: Old Nicosia Revealed was founded 5 years ago by three people who were interested in documenting the old town of Nicosia through the medium of photography. It is was an initiative that is and was very community-based. Therefore, it started off as a Facebook-page on which we did not only upload photos that we took, but also encouraged people to send in their photos. We categorized those as buildings, graffiti, doors through folders on our Facebook-site, and included a small description of each picture that gives some background information the photo did not reveal instantly. Throughout the years, we have organized walks around the old town together with organizations or initiatives and initiated cooperations so that, for instance, you can buy souvenirs at the Home For Cooperation in Nicosia with the photos taken by anyone (and selected through a competition).
Olga: R! covers a variety of themes and concepts, where all projects relate to notions such as participation, democracy, community media and/or power, always in very diverse ways. From your point of view, which of these concepts play a role in your project?
Natalie: For me, the project has a lot to do with community and power. Community is an important concept because we are encouraging the citizens to participate through their own photographs. For “Meet y/our wall” specifically, they take printed pictures and put them on a wall outside the city, take a photograph of it and expose the photos resulting in this chain of depictions at R! and beyond.
This process is also linked to power because one of the messages that we want to convey is that the wall holds power, which is not visible in some parts of Cyprus that are physically far away from it. It makes you realize the power that the wall holds in terms of being a dividing and oppressive element, but also in terms of being an inspiration for works of art, whether these works of art are images or words depicted on it.
And lastly, the project also relates to democracy as it breaks with the mainstream narratives that are communicated on both sides of the divided country. It is about challenging those narratives by making people aware of the fact that there is more to say and see about this historical and political monument than what we are used to.
Olga: You made clear that participation is central to your project. How do you allow for this participatory practice?
Natalie: We express constant reminders to the public to send us their pictures through Facebook. And over the years we received many photographs. Another aspect that we stress very much is our openness to critique or improvement so that people became very comfortable to correct us, for instance, if they think that a description of a picture is not entirely true. Communicating Old Nicosia Revealed as an initiative, which is not about us, but about the community ensured that people get the chance to share their perspectives.
Olga: You are taking a very important symbol for Cyprus, the Green Line, out of its spatial fixation, and put it into new spatial contexts. How do you thereby change the previously taken-for-granted meaning of this symbol and what does this transformation stand for?
Natalie: The green line is indeed very spatially bound to Nicosia. The experience of separation takes place here more than anywhere else in Cyprus. I think that Nicosians always have this feeling that people from outside the city, from Larnaca, Limassol or Paphos do not seem to live the same reality as Nicosians do. Thus, there is a fear that people outside this spatial environment would not understand and feel Cyprus’ problem. By distributing pictures of the wall in other sites of Cyprus, we want to create a better understanding beyond Nicosia of what this divided state means.
At the same time, it is not only a means to communicate the political meanings of the buffer-zone in Nicosia, but, although this might sound paradoxical, it is also about spreading the historical and artistic beauty and aesthetics that resides in this wall.
Olga: Why is it important to create an understanding of Nicosia’s divisive wall in other cities of Cyprus? And does that entail a link to democracy?
Natalie: I do not think that there is a clear opinion that is articulated through this project. It is not there to represent a political campaign, but it is a means to enable further dialogue. Looking at it from a wider perspective: Establishing a wide-spread understanding of Nicosia’s green line in other places of Cyprus can then be a premise for further democratic dialogue about this situation.
Olga: Through the participatory set-up of your project, you aim at closing the gap between “photographer-artist” and the “inexperienced in photography/amateur photographer”. How do you do so?
Natalie: Most of us cannot call ourselves artists, photographers or even amateur photographers. Through this project, we create opportunities where you can point with your camera at whatever matters to you. In this way, the view on the wall is multiplied and divided in much more diverse ways than if this project was to be led by a few professional photographers. It is symbolic of the many angles from which you can look at the wall.
Olga: Why is it important to make this project as inclusive as possible for people who are not considered as professional photographers?
Natalie: It is important because, through projects such as “Meet y/our wall”, people can understand that you don’t have to be a professional or even amateur photographer to have a voice on how the wall and its symbolical meaning is shaped. Especially in these times, when almost everyone has access to a good camera with their smartphones, it gives any normal person the chance to become an artist and share their artwork, either through our Facebook page or, through the exhibition at R!.
On a broader level, this is important because I think that we need more active and empowered citizens. And “Meet y/our wall” offers an interesting and easy way to make people participate and share their points of views. As it is working with images, it is also a nice way to engage the youth.
Olga: What are the limits of such a community-based project?
Natalie: To me, the limit of this, and many other community-based projects, is that it doesn’t become as widespread as it should be. It does not get as much attention as a project that is being produced and promoted by some well-known big organizations, and thus sometimes remains within the close® circle surrounding the community in which the project is developed.