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Teacher under fire for irreverent artwork

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An art teacher’s controversial paintings lambasting the church and politicians has caused a stir after the Education Ministry launched a probe when shocked parents complained about his work posted online.

George Gavriel, an art teacher and headmaster at a state high school in Nicosia, has come under fire after releasing some of his latest paintings on social media, which he calls “anti-establishment art”.

The Education Ministry said it is looking into the matter after complaints from parents and children, and the Cyprus Church while secondary school teachers’ union OELMEK has opted to keep quiet.

The Education Ministry has ordered a probe into the teacher and his paintings.

“The paintings published on social media by the school headmaster in question has shocked and caused upset among parents, his colleagues and the general public, as well as protests from the community in which the school is located”.

A statement issued by the Ministry also noted: “Neither freedom of expression nor freedom of artistic creation can, when it comes to an educator, especially in school, justify insulting public sentiment and the promotion of messages that cultivate a sense of contempt or possibly a climate of intolerance in the student community”.

Archbishop Chrysostomos III joined in the discussion on Thursday, that the teacher had “failed” as an educator in his eyes.

OELMEK, seemingly not willing to get into a discussion over the matter, said in a statement on Thursday that they have not had time to look into the matter as they are busy with more pressing issues related to COVID-19 protocols issued for schools.

In comments to the Financial Mirror OELMEK’s president, Costas Hadjisavvas said: “While no one should be allowed to obstruct freedom of speech and expression, on the other hand, we are a small society and educators need to be careful not to offend any part of the society”.

He argued that where freedom of expression ends is a legal matter, not one that they can deliver a verdict for.

“As for the ministry’s stance, it is up to them to take any action they deem necessary. If they feel that an educator has violated their mandate, they can look into the matter following the rules,” said Hadjisavvas.

The artist himself, defended his work calling on the public and all those who react against his work to find a way to accept the right of any artist to express himself freely.

“The artist should not be worrying about any reactions and be afraid to express himself because then neither he nor society will be able to move forward,” Gavriel said.

“I called these works anti-establishment art as they oppose the current corrupt system.”

He added that art should be at the service of society and that he creates works against social injustice and encourages the reaction of citizens to address problems.

The Art Teachers Association called on the Ministry of Education to recall its decision of a disciplinary investigation against Gavriel.

It said the reasons cited by the Ministry for initiating a disciplinary investigation are not related to the performance of Gavriel’s duties at the school where he is employed but in his capacity as a visual artist.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself ‘The Justice Project’, advocating for the rights of those living on the margins of Cypriot society, called for a demonstration in support of the teacher on Friday at 2 pm outside the Education Ministry.