Topic: Politics and art don't mix as Manifesta cancelled

By Charlie Charalambous

The European Biennial of Contemporary Art, founded to bring Europe closer together after the Berlin Wall tumbled, has come unstuck in the world's last divided capital.

The row over one of the art world's premier contemporary festivals has ruffled feathers and dented Cyprus' cultural reputation.

But local organisers said they had no other option after the cultural event was hijacked for political aims at the expense of true bi-communal participation.

Nicosia was unhappy that part of Manifesta 6 would take place in the occupied north, possibly offering a semblance of recognition to an illegal regime.

For the first time in the 10-year history of the International Foundation Manifesta (IFM) lawyers are reading the contractual small print after Cyprus pulled the plug on Manifesta 6.

Stumbling block

Although, several reasons are given, the main stumbling block was the opening of an international arts school that would also operate in Turkish-held north Nicosia. The school was to be the central theme of Manifesta 6 where performances, workshops and lectures were to take place for the duration.

Nicosia Municipality, through organisers Nicosia for Art (NFA) - said this was something they had not signed up for when agreeing to fund the estimated 1.8m-euro 100-day bonanza.

"The establishment and operation on a permanent basis of an essential part of the school in the occupied areas of Nicosia apart from being in conflict with Cyprus and international law was also outside the ambit of terms of the respective agreements," said an NFA statement.

It points out that the curators originally decided to locate an integrated school at the Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre with some events to be held at cinemas, theatres and other spaces across town.

Then there was a change of heart with the curators proposed a site in north Nicosia in February.

"Due to passport checks by the non-recognised 'TRNC' it was not possible for NFA, as the host of the event, to guarantee free access to participants as well as the public."

The municipality said being denied autonomous decision making about the school's location, and the general program, was a "major obstacle in the continuation and realisation of Manifesta 6".

Some Greek Cypriot artists had already complained they would refuse to cross over if Manifesta 6 went north.


The crux of the legal wrangle also seems to be over who had autonomy for decision making on shaping Manifesta 6.

Moreover, all three Manifesta curators have had their contracts terminated and Nicosia is also in dispute with the IFM.

"Our contracts were terminated for breach of confidentiality and turning Manifesta 6 into a political issue but it was made clear from the start that it would be a bi-communal event," German curator Florian Waldvogel told The Cyprus Weekly.

He said the actions taken by Nicosia town hall were tantamount to censorship of the art world and argued there was no confidentiality agreement to break.

"In terms of the agreement the curators had full autonomy over the project and forbidding it is censorship."

Waldvogel claims there was a lack of transparency in the budget; a communications breakdown and artists were kept in the dark on whether they could go ahead with their projects, which needed funding.

He called for a re-think about how Manifesta should be run in the future.

The municipality denies it mishandled the budget and counter claims it was misled by the IFM about the money forthcoming from international sponsors.

When Nicosia got the nod to hold Manifesta 6 it was heralded as a great achievement to show off the capital and bring the divided Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities closer together during a 90-day extravaganza.

Only months before the big event - planned for September 23 - December 17 - Manifesta has collapsed in acrimony and recriminations with the blame game expected to rumble on.

Nicosia said it had no choice but to scrap the event after the curators and IMF refused to engage in talks in efforts to lift the deadlock.

IFM is also accused of giving the curators the 'necessary' support in disputing NFA's contractual rights and continuing to "create a political issue out of a purely cultural one".

"The NFA considers as unacceptable the effort of assigning political dimensions to a cultural event, which had one of its primary aims the creation of a platform of cooperation between the two communities of Cyprus, within a spirit of solidarity."

The intricacies of Cyprus politics maybe lost on the cognoscenti but scores of students and artists are left with a huge hole in their diary.

"A lot of people quit their jobs and changed their lives to spend time here, so the intellectual damage is much bigger," said Waldvogel.

9 June - 16 June