‘Lost’ Cyprus paintings to go on display after 46 years

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More than 200 paintings by leading 20th century Cypriot artists feared as looted or destroyed during the Turkish invasion in the summer of 1974 will go on public display for the first time in 46 years.

This follows a bicommunal effort to exchange cultural heritage as a confidence-building measure between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The 219 paintings by G. Pol Georghiou, Giorgos Skotinos, Stelios Votsis, Christoforos Savva, Andreas Charalambides, Michael Kashialos, Ioannis Kisssonergis, Nikos Nikolaides, Rea Bailey, Adamantios Diamantis and Telemachos Kanthos were part of the Famagusta municipal collection, stuck in the port or left behind in private studios and returned through the United Nations on February 4.

These are just a fraction of the lost art or looted religious artefacts that were left behind during the war, with some landmark cases resulting in the halt of auctions and their recovery, to be returned to their rightful owners, in most cases the Church of Cyprus and the Department of Antiquities.

However, this is the first time that contemporary art has been returned, thanks to a joint effort by art-loving and peace-seeking people on both sides of the dividing line who rescued as many paintings as possible and were part of an exchange that included rare audio-visual archives kept at the state broadcaster CyBC and returned to the Turkish Cypriots.

The paintings will be part of the exhibition entitled ‘Rebirth’ and displayed from 14 March to 30 April at the State Gallery of Contemporary Art – SPEL, opposite the Famagusta Gate in Nicosia.

A government statement said, “the process of returning the works to the rightful beneficiaries is being activated through a special committee appointed by the Council of Ministers”.

It added that “the artworks, including emblematic works of Greek Cypriot and Greek artists from the first decades of the 20th century until the early 1970s, had remained in the northern part of the island after 1974. They were later found in various homes and public places and were safeguarded by Turkish Cypriots.

Sixty-seven of these works, together with audio-visual material, were recently presented at Ledra Palace in Nicosia, under the auspices of the United Nations, at a special ceremony last month, in the presence of the two Cypriot leaders, the UN head of mission, members of the Technical Committee, diplomats, artists and their families.

The works were officially handed over to the Republic of Cyprus, which undertook, via the Cultural Services of the Ministry of Education, to present them to the general public.

Works by prominent Greek artists such as Ioannis Tsarouchis, Ioannis Moralis, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Giorgos Gounaropoulos, Fotis Kontoglou and others, will also be on display.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Yiannis Toumazis, art historian/theorist and Co-Vice President of the Technical Committee for Culture, who conducted the research, completing the initial process of identifying the works.