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30 June 2020

Corona Induced Creativity

Written by Published in Art & Culture
Green Village Partnership: Cyprus mosaic masterclass
Green Village Partnership: Cyprus mosaic masterclass
Green Village Partnership: Cyprus mosaic masterclass

I am the Director of Grampus Heritage and Training, a UK-based NGO who have offered European training in sustainability for 26 years. Sublime magazine have been formal partner for the last 11 of those years and together we’ve done great things!  These days we call ourselves the “Green Village Partnership” and we concern ourselves with the FOUR PILLARS OF SUSTAINABILITY – environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability.

As for almost everybody, these past months have been difficult. The corona virus pandemic that has swept the world has had a devastating effect – as I write now, 7,113,020 people contracted the virus and 406,549 died from it, 5.7%. Some countries managed the situation better than others; Our “Green Village” European partnership is in 15 countries and is rural… All our partners have done okay and definitely, being in villages has been safer than being in cities. Cyprus is in the top 4 European countries for dealing successfully with the virus and the Green Village partner there, Kato Drys have managed to be creative (and sustainable) in their isolation.

MOSAICbeautiful villagesKatyBeautiful Kato Drys and Pano Lefkara

The creativity has blossomed because corona has caused people to slow down, stay at home, not go shopping (for things they don’t really need) and be more self-reliant. People have also had plenty of time to think and realized that they really do enjoy being creative.  Back in January this year, a lady from Scotland, Katy Galbraith, came to Cyprus to teach a mosaic masterclass. Although Cyprus has a mosaic tradition dating back over 3,000 years, the materials, method and designs are less contemporary than in other, more western parts of Europe. In Cyprus the local mosaic makers were using traditional small square tesserae much as their Roman ancestors had, Katy specializes in using waste ceramics, crockery, old bathroom tiles, etc., and also introducing three dimensional elements. Within weeks of Katy going back to Scotland the corona virus began to have an impact and by March travel became so difficult that some learners became ‘locked down’ in Cyprus. For the Cypriots and other Europeans who self-isolated in and around Kato Drys, the stage was set for some real creativity. Katy’s training plus the closure of all mosaic supply shops led into 3 really great mosaic projects.

MOSAICKatyMosaic teacher Katy Galbraith in action

Lindsay Elise Jolly from Suffolk in the UK was on a long-term placement in the villages of Kato Drys and Pano Lefkara (“EU – Erasmus Pro”) from January to July 2020. Following advice from the UK Government she booked a flight to return home but at the last minute it was cancelled and flights stopped altogether. Never mind, it could be worse! These Cypriot mountain villages have been voted in the top 30 most beautiful places on earth… and… as it transpired, there was not one recorded case of the virus in either village. Lindsay put her newly acquired contemporary mosaic skills to good use… using discarded kitchen and bathroom tiles, broken crockery and old roof tile logos to create a rugged tree on an exotic Mediterranean coast. In the branches of the tree ceramic ‘green men’ lurk… the products of a student built, wood-fired kiln. Dolphins, painstakingly cut out of 1980’s bathroom tiles add movement…. The whole effect is extraordinarily striking and beautiful… and developmentally a very long way from the ancient Roman mosaics at nearby Kourion !

MOSAICLindsayLindsay’s mosaic

Zora Kizilyurek is a Turkish Cypriot who has been studying Law in London. Zora is interested in bi-communal projects to bring Greek and Turkish Cypriots closer together. Art and craft is shared between the two communities and doing them side-by-side is a great way to bring down barriers. Mosaic is common patrimony and creating mosaics that appeal to both sides makes a lot of sense. Working in a Green Village team alongside Lindsay and myself, we focused on a textile pattern well-known throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, the ‘marguerite’- an 8-pointed star or 8-petalled flower. The symbol was first developed by the Ancient Greeks around 750 BCE but was really popularized by the Romans as the “Star of Venus” and they took in all over Europe; it’s said that the Viking Varangian guards in Byzantium even took it back to Scandinavia from Constantinople. With Zora, we chose to use discarded beer and soft drinks cans and the mosaic went onto parts of a thrown away fitted kitchen cupboard. Because of the complexities of colours, this mosaic is best viewed from a distance.  The frame of the mosaic is from flattened yellow beer cans affixed using industrial rivets, giving a very urban steam punk look !

MOSAICZoraZora & team’s mosaic

Panayiota Demetriou is a skilled Greek Cypriot craft artisan, a well-known ‘pleumistra ’(lace maker’) who has also developed as a teacher of mosaic, pyrography and knitting. Within the Green Village partnership, Panayiota (‘Yiota’) also teaches traditional Cypriot cookery and how to forage for wild fruits, mushrooms, nuts and greens. Over the last 9 years Yiota has led a mosaic team to make and install a series of 6 works of art in arches in Kato Drys; the corona virus gave the chance to complete the last one using design input from Anna-Marya Tompa with Katy’s training and some strong three-dimensional elements. Yiota’s theme, a stylized view through the branches of a plane tree onto sun canopies of the local ‘Platanos’ restaurant, which is owned by the village of Kato Drys and is a great community asset. Local folklore had given the villagers of Kato Drys the nickname of the ‘foxes’, so a mischievous bushy-tailed fox puts in a three-dimensional element.  

MOSAICYiota1Panayiota’s mosaic

All three mosaics are environmentally sustainable using a lot of waste material from the local rubbish collection points and having a very low carbon footprint; they are also socially sustainable because they give an opportunity for people from different races and backgrounds to work together. Cultural sustainability is high because they have all been engaged in contemporizing an ancient local skill, keeping it alive and fresh for new generations. Finally, these mosaics will go in community spaces, attracting tourists with money in their pockets, plus, although they are not for sale… there is every indication that people would buy them, given the chance, so they are economically sustainable; hitting home on all FOUR PILLARS OF SUSTAINABILITY!

We can conclude that corona virus led our Green Village team into an unknown and frightening situation but I think we have emerged as more creative and more sustainable individuals… a bit of a silver lining to a very black cloud!

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