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PROSFIGOSIMO: A stamp for the refugees of Cyprus

The story of a symbol

  • Speech of the curator of the exhibition, Ms. Maria Paphiti, Art historian, Curator of the exhibition.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the honour of being the curator of the exhibition and in this capacity I would like to share with you the reasoning for its organisation.

The refugee child by A. Tassos has always held a special place in my heart and mind. As a child I identified with her because she is exactly my age. Also, her figure was very familiar to me, for I saw her coming and going in our home regularly depicted on a stamp being affixed to all the envelopes we received and sent by post. The lonely figure of the refugee child, sitting in front of the cold and hostile barbed wire, used to shock me, causing overwhelming emotions and raising questions to me.

My coming of age, as well as the acquisition of knowledge related both to the history of Cyprus and art, allowed me to evaluate the Refugee Stamp with objective criteria, beyond emotion. I appreciated the Refugee Stamp for what it represents and I admired it as the great work of art that it really is. Nevertheless, its recurring presence over the years has made me take it for granted and in a way I tended to move past it.

The pivotal moment, catalyst and starting point for the present exhibition was when, during a morning walk in April 2022, I chanced upon the monumental graffiti, showing the Refugee Child, located in the parking lot of the Dianellou and Theodotou High School in Nicosia. This graffiti, as I was later informed, was painted by the athletes of the boxing section of the APOEL union.

In an unsuspecting time I was confronted with this arresting painting, a déjà vu, which surprised me and instantly made me feel that I encountered an old acquaintance. Questions began to unfold in my mind. What is happening nowadays with the Refugee Stamp? Given the fact that the Internet has replaced many of our daily practices, how many people still post letters and packages in the traditional way, so as to get actually in touch with the Refugee Stamp? What does the contemporary generation know about it? After all, how many of us are aware of the history and raison d’être of the Refugee Stamp, an artwork-symbol, which for many is visually more powerful even than our flag itself?

Before getting on with my walk, I photographed the graffiti, having already decided to organise an exhibition about the Refugee Stamp, addressed to the entire world: to those who know its history, to awaken them, and to those who are unaware of it, to inform them, whether they are Cypriots or foreigners. The Refugee Stamp was established by a government decision on 12 September 1974, the purpose of which was to financially contribute to the relief of refugees. Its symbolism and messages remain intact and relevant, for the people displaced by the Turkish invasion of 1974 continue to be refugees.

A fortnight later and while the idea for the Refugee Stamp exhibition was still fresh, I coincidentally met with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Annita Dimitriou. Quite spontaneously I mentioned to her my intention to organise an exhibition about the Refugee Stamp and suggested that we work together to make it happen. It only took a short discussion for her to agree, state her readiness to host the exhibition at the House of Citizen and also to contribute to its realisation.

The making of the exhibition

The exhibition consists of four sections that visually narrate the history of the refugee stamp and its significance for Cyprus, both as a symbol of modern Cypriot history and as a means of enlightenment about the ongoing consequences of the Turkish invasion. The philatelic section of the exhibition narrates the evolution and use of the refugee stamp.

The woodcut, which the Greek engraver, Tassos Alevizos, created and donated to Cyprus free of charge, as a work of art leaves no one untouched. It was only natural that it would influence the artistic production of our country. Hence, the exhibition includes a selection of artworks that display the consequences of contemporary refugeeism, demonstrating that pain and loss, primordial expressions of human nature, remain unchanged, regardless of time and place.

Both the barbed wire represented on the refugee stamp and the tall mesh fence that rises around part of the sea front of Famagusta symbolize displacement and division and in a relentless way remind every refugee that one cannot go home.

* * *

It would have been impossible to organise the present exhibition  without the contribution of many people. The least I owe is to thank them and please allow me to mention them by name, hoping I have not missed anyone.

Thanks to our partners:

  1. The A. Tassos Art Foundation and especially its President, Dr. Irini Orati
  2. The Cyprus State Archives, in particular the director Dr. Christos Kyriakidis and Mrs. Koula Pieri, who supported me throughout the research process.
  3. On behalf of the Cyprus Post Office, the director Mr. Pavlos Pavlidis, Mr. Demetris Shiammas, head of stamps and philately, as well as, the postal inspector Mrs. Maria Herakleous.
  4. Mrs. Aliki Stylianou and Mrs. Lelia Lambrianidou from the Press and Information Office
  5. The Cyprus Philatelic Society, and specifically its vice-president, Mr. Akis Christou, who curated the philatelic section of the exhibition.
  6. The newspaper POLITIS that permitted us to use the photograph of Babis Avdelopoulos, which was used for the second refugee stamp.

My warm thanks go to the two sponsors of the exhibition:

  1. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the former minister Mr. Ioannis Kasoulidis for his support and greeting in the catalogue of the exhibition. I also warmly thank the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Mr. Cornelios Corneliou, who not only proposed the exhibition to receive a sponsorship, but he also intriduces the section of Famagusta in the catalogue.
  2. The Eureka group and in particular the managing director of marketing, Mrs. Elena Sarri Varnavas, who as an artist, participates in the exhibition with two paintings.

Many thanks to the following collections for lending us artworks:

  1. On behalf of the State Collection of Cypriot Art, Mrs. Louli Michaelidou and Mrs. Sofia Mourouti, for the wooden engraved plaque of Tassos, which was donated to Cyprus after his death by his wife, Loukia Maggiorou.
  2. The political party AKEL that lent us the woodcut by A. Tassos, Cyprus 1974. I express my most sincere thanks to the member of the parliament, Mr. Giorgos Koukoumas, as well as, to Mr. Costas Costa, head of the cultural department, for their great cooperation.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Mr. Panicos Papanikolaou, who undertook the expenses for the conservation and reframing of this work, which although it belongs to the collection of AKEL, it is, in fact, a legacy of all of us.

  1. The Telemachos Kanthos Foundation for the loan of the artist’s iconic engravings, which are identified with our contemporary history and were widely used by the Cyprus Philatelic Society. I personally thank Mrs. Eleni Kanthou, who lent us the important painting Triptych of ᾽74. Flight III, which belongs to the family of Telemachos Kanthos.
  2. The Lefteris Economou Foundation for the loan of the painting Thorns, Scenes and Refugees, which is being exhibited publicly for the first time, beyond the artist’s workshop, and for the loan of other engravings.
  3. The House of Representatives and private collections that contribute to the exhibition with numerous paintings. The masterpiece of George Skotinos, Horses of Famagusta, which was first presented at the Venice Biennale in 1968, when Cyprus participated for the first time, stands out among them.
  4. I deeply thank and congratulate all the artists participating in the exhibition:
  • George Gabriel
  • Elina Theodotou
  • Marios Theophilides
  • Michalis Kountouris
  • Andreas Ladommatos
  • Lia Lapithi
  • Andreas Nikolaou
  • George Pantazis
  • Panagiotis Pasantas
  • Elena Sarri Varnavas
  • Hampis Tsangaris
  • Katerina Christodoulou

I thank Antonis Alexandrou, who supervises the House of the Citizen daily, Haris Aristidou for the technical support and everyone who works for tonight’s event.

Many congratulations to the students of the Dianellos and Theodotos High School and to their music teacher, Mr. Petros Solomou, for the performance they  will shortly present to us, as well as to the high school headmistress, Mrs. Monica Grimaldi Constantinou, who encourages actions of this kind.

Dear President of the House of Representatives, I sincerely thank you for the trust you have shown in me and for your cooperation. I am grateful to the staff of your office and especially your close associate, Ms. Nadia Karagianni. Also, for the publication that accompanies the exhibition and for the organization of tonight’s event, I would like to thank Mrs. Anthi Tofari, Flora Florentzou, Nikoletta Kanellopoulou and Nitsa Agrotou.

I can’t but thank the people closest to me, my own family for the understanding and daily support they offered me during the last few months.

I wish you to enjoy the exhibition and always remember that the seemingly insignificant child of the refugee stamp, the “Kypriotaki” (little Cypriot), as Tassos Alevizos used to call it, remains their most faithful and unwavering witness.

A Tassos (1914-1985)

Cyprus 1974

Engraved woodblock and ink

70,7 x 70 cm

State collection of Cypriot Art

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