Cyprus: the last wall in Europe. Interview with Ellada Evangelou | Ellada Evangelou, Cyprus, Rooftop Theatre Group, Nicosia, Association for Historical Dialogues and Research, Cyprus Center of the International Theatre Institute, Walls: Separate Worlds, Federica Araco
Cyprus: the last wall in Europe. Interview with Ellada Evangelou
Federica Araco   

//Ellada EvangelouEllada EvangelouEllada Evangelou is an activist, artist and academic born in the Greek part of Cyprus. She is a member of the Rooftop Theatre Group and also an independent workshop facilitator, dramaturge and director, “trying to always listen to the needs and trends of the communities on the island and the Euro-Mediterranean area”. After a PhD in cultural analysis, dealing with theatre and identity in Cyprus and other communities in the region, she explores nationalism and post-colonialism and she also collaborates with NGOs in getting the voice of the citizens heard through alternative forums, “since official government structures are very Kafkaesque!”, she explains.

Ellada Evangelou was also involved in the European project “WALLS-Separate Worlds” in its last step in Cyprus.

 


 

 

Interview by Babelmed:

What sort of a personal connection do you have with Cyprus? What are your activities and your artistic and cultural formation?

My connection with the island is organic: I am a Greek-Cypriot, born and raised here, half from the mountain and half from the sea. My artistic and social identity are connected with the space closely, my cultural formation was defined by the values I was given, some of which I had to get rid of to be more human! And all the internal walls I had to take down. I am an activist, artist and academic. As an artist with my theatre group, Rooftop Theatre Group and as an independent workshop facilitator, dramaturge and director, I am trying to always listen to the needs and trends of the communities on the island and the  Euro-Mediterranean area. In the last two years I have been a member of the board of the Cyprus Center of the International Theatre Institute, an NGO active on the island in the field of theatre development (locally and internationally), and have had the good fortune to become involved with the Walls: Separate Worlds project.

Cyprus: the last wall in Europe. Interview with Ellada Evangelou | Ellada Evangelou, Cyprus, Rooftop Theatre Group, Nicosia, Association for Historical Dialogues and Research, Cyprus Center of the International Theatre Institute, Walls: Separate Worlds, Federica Araco 

Could you tell us about your efforts on integration and dialogue inside the Cypriot civil society?

Over the years the needs of Cypriot society have changed, with the end of the segregation of the populations ending in 2003, entering the European Union in 2004, passing through a financial crisis both in the south and north of the island. So it has been a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of the situation in Cypriot society. Bridging the gaps between people through workshops, common performances and other artistic activities, focusing on the elements that unite the people of the island rather than those which divide them. Common rhythms, tastes, smells and gazes… trying to capture and re-capture.

 

How can arts and culture help in healing the old wounds and opening up new ways of meeting and discussion on the island?

Arts and culture are some of the very few ways with which change can occur. The wounds on the island are old and deep, and they are most of the time not wounds of the skin, but emotional wounds. This means that they cannot be rationalized. You cannot reason your wounds away. You can only heal them through a similar type of process, with an experiential reversal of the intolerance into tolerance, the hate into love. A piece of literature, a theatre play, a film or a piece of art can be more compelling than series of lectures.

 

What is the role of the theatre in this context?

The role of the theatre is to provide alternative viewpoints, literally ways and angles of seeing. It is not a descriptive or prescriptive art in these times we are going through. I hope that we have moved beyond both these options for how we can practice our art. Artaud talks about drawing on your inner darkness, I argue for drawing on your inner light to make art. Find that place where theatrical creativity can be enveloped in this light. Like finding the clearing in the woods, and create theatre there.

 

What does working on dialogue and boundaries in the last European country divided by a wall mean to you? What are the main challenges and difficulties?

Apparently, there are physical boundaries. Walls that you need to find a passage through in order to reach the other side. And there are several internal walls that you need to overcome. Within you and within other people, your audiences, funders, colleagues, politicians, cultural agents and many others. One of the biggest challenges is to persevere, support people in their overcoming of inner walls over and over again. This repetition can be one of the greatest challenges, and a hidden one, because you forget how difficult it is for people to go through the process of personal transformation. But as an artist, you need to be present for them.

 

How is the situation one year after the breakout of the economical crisis? How do the young people and the civil society react to the EU policies of austerity?

The crisis was a blow to the Greek-Cypriot ego. After the war in 1974, the economic development in the Greek-Cypriot community was rapid and it turned farmers living in villages, into Mercedes-driving and Sushi-eating nouveau riches. As a result of this financial boom, the community did not mature culturally, it did not attain the tools to deal with cultural multiplicity and with the challenges caused by the financial crisis. The comfortable, often numbing, lifestyle of Greek-Cypriots made them passive recipients of the new socio-economic order. It has not passed into the mentality of the people that they have the power to change their society, and as an extension their own lives. The youth are perhaps the most passive age group, with small pockets of artists and entrepreneurs as exceptions.

 

In the last European elections we saw a significant abstention by the people. Are there any social movements that struggle to change the situation in the country?

The abstention in the last EU elections in Cyprus was really high, over half of the population chose not to vote. In other European countries, the level of abstention was also high, but large groups of youth were mobilized in order to break the bi-party system, and in many cases they achieved it. I interpret this choice of the Cypriot youth to distance themselves from actively trying to bring forth change, and allowing the bi-party system to still rule strong in the Greek-Cypriot community, as a lack of awareness of one’s power. Having said that, in the last European elections, there was a new political combination with both Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot candidates in equal standing (unheard of until today), quite a few independent candidates and event an animal rights combination. Several NGOs and researchers are active in their investigation of society, but again these are pockets, and the mainstream media and culture are monolithic and sterile.

Cyprus: the last wall in Europe. Interview with Ellada Evangelou | Ellada Evangelou, Cyprus, Rooftop Theatre Group, Nicosia, Association for Historical Dialogues and Research, Cyprus Center of the International Theatre Institute, Walls: Separate Worlds, Federica Araco 

What about the involvement of the young people? What do they think about living in a country divided by a wall?

I don’t want to sound cynical, but most people are quite used to it. We tend to remember the existence of the wall when we see visitors to the island and their own reaction to it. After 40 years (in some places like Nicosia the wall was put up in 1958), new habits are formed in people’s bodies. We learn how to stop at the wall, and turn back. Few people, and even fewer young people in the communities living on the island, feel the need to try to overthrow it.

 

Are there any Greek-Turkish associations on the island that work to break down the walls, both the ideological and the physical ones?

Yes, in the last decade there are several organizations with members from both communities, and whose activities are geared for the two communities. Among them the Association for Historical Dialogues and Research (education), Cyprus Community Media Center (Media), Rooftop Theatre Group (Theatre), Peace Players (Sports and peace), Cyprus Academic Dialogue (academics), SEED (think tank) and others.

 

What do you think would be the best political solution possible?

You are talking about a feasible solution, and this is a complicated question. If you were asking me which solution I want, that’s different! But seriously, I think a possible solution is up to the communities, and it is directly linked with whether or not the political elite (who are conducting the talks), as well as the UN and other international players, start to train society on both sides to create a culture for a solution. At the moment, the societal trends are associated with non-solution, with maintaining the status quo. There is fear within the communities, each for their own reasons, which is supported in both communities by education, the media and the political climate. So for a solution to be possible, for the island to reunite, you need a top-down and a bottom-up change.

 

http://www.rooftoptheatregroup.com/

http://www.cypruscommunitymedia.org/

 


 

Federica Araco

Traduzione dall'italiano Övgü Pınar

23/06/2014