Nowadays, the word “immigrants” brings to peoples` minds the refugee crisis, evoking images of people crossing the Eastern Mediterranean in their effort to survive and find a better future. In Cyprus, however, the word is also reminiscent of a school and its pupils. An art project with the same name, created by the students of Apostolos Loukas High School, in Kolossi, under the guidance of their teacher Popi Nicolaou, has made all Cypriots proud.
The old boat that was transformed into art, to enter a national student competition, has managed to sent a powerful message, winning eventually two prizes at a Saatchi Gallery competition, in London, as well as the 2016 European Citizen`s Prize, awarded by the European Parliament together with Turkish Cypriot teacher and pro-reunification activist Şener Elcil.
Following the prize-giving ceremonies, organized by the EP office in Cyprus, Nicolaou and Elcil will both attend on Wednesday the official ceremony, in Brussels, along with other recipients of the prize, from the rest of the member states.
In an interview with CNA, Nicolaou said she was moved that the school was selected for the award. “Me and my students, we have managed to turn public opinion in favor of those refugees and to make people recognize that the message can be conveyed by any part of society, and with any means – and in particular through art – when it is powerful enough” she noted.
Nicolaou also said that she recognized right from the start that this was a different project, however she could never imagine the acceptance and affection ordinary people would display towards it, nor the awards it would receive.
Before entering the Saatchi Gallery competition, the art teacher was not certain whether their project would be acknowledged, despite its contemporaneous message. The result was to win the “Overall Winner” and “Secondary Category Winner” awards. However, the boat`s journey is not meant to end any time soon, since it is being considered for display at the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg, on the occasion of the Cypriot Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. The University of Cyprus has also proposed to exhibit the project in early November.
Regarding the 18,000 sterling prize the school was awarded for the project, Popi Nicolaou explained that a Committee has been formed, with the aim of creating art facilities. They will be used for art class, as well as for afternoon seminars, teaching children the various art techniques. It will belong not just to the school, but to the community and Limassol in general, Nicolaou says.
She also underlined the message that was sent by her students, “to care about refugees”, because as she notes, Cypriots have also gone through the same ordeal. We have been and we still are refugees, says the teacher, referring to Cypriots that were displaced following the 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation.”I am one of them, I have never ceased feeling like a refugee and my aim is to return someday in Varosha, were I come” she adds, while referring to her hometown, the now uninhabited, fenced-off city part of Famagusta, in the eastern coast of Cyprus.
According to Nicolaou, the feelings of becoming a refugee are never forgotten, nor the pain or the desire to go back, “no matter how many years pass”.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third.
ENDS, CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY