Nicosia. The Divided City



Adaptation of the tale “Nicosia. The Divided City” by Joan C. Roca Sans


My name is Marina and my sudden interest in Cyprus started in Barcelona, when I went to the presentation of a patent for transferring photographs of mural paintings. At the symposium, I struck up a friendship with Diana and her husband Kypros. Like me, they were both dedicated to restoring old mural paintings and similar items.

When they invited me to visit them I wanted to see and find out more about the island and to explore the truth for myself, going beyond the different, often contradictory versions, depending on whether the sources consulted were Greek, Turkish or British. Nicolas, my boyfriend, immediately agreed to come too.

Agios Giorgios Alamanou

On the day we arrived, we met an old priest called Dionisos in the cloisters of Agios Georgios Alamanou. He told us without waiting for us to question him.

“The soldiers came into St. Barnabas refectory and tied our hands, while insulting us and hitting us. After some hours of uncertainty, they put us in a lorry, tied to each other by the neck. The official gave some orders which I did not understand. There was so much hatred in the look of those men that I thought they were going to kill us.”

He was a man who held himself upright with the aid of a wooden crook which was almost as high as he was. His pale eyes peered out from under his thick eyebrows. They showed curiosity and sadness. His look transmitted a deep, warm, close humanity. On one of the walls there was a row of photographs of priests. “All dead” was all he said pointing at the portraits and added “yes, this one is Makarios”.

In the broad central column, stuck onto a large frame without glass, we could see the photos of a lifetime. In one of them, a monk was at Dionisos’ side looking at him, while he was painting. In other photos, a group were looking at a painting already finished; in another there were family members posing next to a car. Across the room, there was an easel with an icon that had been started and tubes of dried paint that showed that Pater Dionisos would probably never finish the painting.

Chance had it that the first person to whom we spoke on Cyprus was an old priest who had been a victim of the dramatic events of that bloody summer, when Nikos Sampson’s military coup gave Ankara the pretext it had been waiting for to invade more than a third of the island and from which the Turks did not seem to have any intention of leaving.

After the Second World War, Archbishop Makarios and the Greek general Georgios Grivas constituted the EOKA and ten years later, the fight for independence started. The British Army sent in 40,000 troops to fight against the guerrillas supported by the civil population. In 1959, independence was achieved, which forbade both the Enosis (union with Greece) and the Taqsim (division of the island) and which instituted the United Kingdom, Turkey and Greece as guarantors of the new state. For three years, there was calm until an incident unleashed a spiral of violence. Both communities constituted paramilitary groups which took part in violent confrontations, whilst the Turkish Cypriots went from isolated rural villages to places and areas where they were able to feel safer. In 1963, the UN saw fit to intervene, because NATO was not able to do so as both Greece and Turkey were members of it.

In 1974, the situation underwent a radical change. The Greek Military Junta instigated a coup d’état in Cyprus, with the support of the CIA. The Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, fearing that Nikos Sampson would start to crush the Turks on the island, went to London to request a joint Turkish-British intervention. The British hesitated and Ecevit decided to act on his own. It was the opportunity he had been waiting for. This is how the Attila operations started.

Marine forces disembarked near Kyrenia, while the air transport troops landed on the plain between the mountains of Kyrenia and Nicosia, in an area mainly populated by the Turks. Both military groups came together and on the following day the military coup was aborted and, at the same time, the military Junta collapsed in Greece.

The island was de facto split in two. One thing would have been an intervention to overthrow Sampson and then withdraw, but a permanent military occupation was unacceptable. In the mid-1970s, peace negotiations —that have still not given any results— were started. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed, which is only officially recognised by Ankara.

To the west

After visiting the castle in Limassol, we ate moussaka next to the Central Market and we decided to go down along the coast to the western end of the island, before crossing the Troodos mountain range and going into Nicosia to meet Diana and Kypros.

Along the way, we stopped off at a couple of monasteries, which were well kept and had very few residents. Only two monks live in the one in Chrysorrogiatissa. The one who attended us, Arsenius, of Romanian nationality and with very little knowledge of Greek and none at all of English, seeing our interest in the museum, showed us a secret chamber with dozens of catalogued icons all piled.

The Troodos

We came to a valley called Solea, which was fresh and wooded, with sparkling streams and fruit trees. We went through the village of Kalopanagiotis, with its mountain houses with sloped roofs and wooden galleries.

We crossed the River Setrachos by means of a bridge that spanned a deep, narrow gully and we came to an esplanade. The old Agios Ioannis Lampadistis monastery was open and inside it the lights were on. The friar in charge kindly invited us in. I was speechless! The past came rushing back to me and I received it captivated, suspended between the origin and the end of time and I didn’t want to move from there until I was asked to leave.

Brother Alexis was getting on for fifty. He had a long beard tinged with grey and a permanent smile of happiness on his face. He told us he was Greek, from Thessalonica, that he had lived in Mount Athos and that he had been occupying this place for the last eight months. The Pater from Kalopanagiotis officiated at the Sunday service. The men and the women were separated. It would take me hours to describe the place, therefore I will just say that the Templon, which acts as the iconostasis, is made of painted wood and dates back to the 13th century, a true miracle of survival, and still in use.

The walls of the three churches are covered with frescoes from different periods and styles, some of them from the so-called Italo-Byzantine, which show signs of a clear western influence due to the introduction of the perspective and relative size of the figures. The church was packed. The ritual took place in the half light, simple and emotional, thanks to the psalmody which Brother Félix sang together with two men from the village, to the twinkling lights of the candles that we were holding, to the blessing of the bread and the wine, the aroma of the incense and the metallic tinkling of the censer.

When the time came to talk about politics, I asked him for his opinion about the Cyprus problem. His response was simple “What we should fear are fanatics, whatever side they are on. In Cyprus, politicians have created barriers of hate and nobody is blameless, yet nobody is willing to recognise it.”

“Today at 11 o’clock, we have a christening.” he said. […]


Continue reading


Cyprus. The Border



Cyprus. Behind the border






Roca Sans

by Fundacio Vila Casas


In the Palau Solterra. Torroella de Montgrí (Winter 2011-2012)


Download the catalog


Exhibition at the Palau Solterra Galery

by Gloria Bosch, Director of the Vila Casas Art Foundation

The words crucible and boundaries are fundamental if you seek to understand how Juan Carlos Roca Sans feels about art. The alchemist’s melting pot fuses and integrates elements in order to obtain the Philosopher’s stone or the essence of a suggestion that instead of inhibiting our comprehension, actually opens our eyes. He draws from different directions, languages, techniques until he has achieved the optimum equilibrium, the unity of what he wishes to express. However, at the same time, the material that is generated, the story he tells, is a collaboration, a balance between narrative and image. And that, for me, is the essence of contemporaneity, the ability to break the rules and the partitions that divide us. The boundaries are a fictional concept, which are imposed upon us, and determine human relationships and understanding. The borders are not good for relationships between people and cultures, neither do they benefit artistic disciplines. If we refer to Virginia Woolf’s essay, “A room of one’s own”, an example which I happily use to explain how freedom and the porosity of the mind are integrating elements that know no boundaries, because the mind (one’s personal room which nobody can ever lock) always has an open window, –much like the one Woolf had when she was writing–, whilst it observes, reflects upon and absorbs what it sees.

With this Roca Sans solo show, the Vila Casas Foundation wanted to complete the portrait of the artist, following his previous exhibition, which took place last summer in Can Mario. Now, he adds one more story which, like the previous one, comes from the Ermoupoli Project, turns out to be an ambitious work in progress where the concept of travel which links reality and fiction is essential and where each chapter is a story which aims to merge the tale with the image. “Cyprus, the border” tells us about the experiences of a journey supposedly completed by the main character, Marina, who is presumably an alter ego of the author. We believe that, in this way, you get a feel for how he has integrated the work of the arts, which uses different disciplines to give his work meaning, not just drawing (which brings him closer to his personal pictorial experiences) or the photography of drawing (which enables work with digital editing programmes), but also an animation movie which allows us to see the entire story and the sculpture, that displays painted sheet iron models which include transfers of paintings on methacrylate. The fusion of reality with fiction allows him to achieve certain social and political goals, expressing his concern for and commitment to the state of affairs. He goes a step further when instead of opposing and dividing, he establishes this concept of borders as a boundary which has to be crossed in all aspects of life and art. Furthermore the boundary, when we discuss these facts, fades and becomes fragile; as fragile as so many obligations we impose upon ourselves or which are imposed upon us, always seeking locks and keys which properly close.





The pictorialism which marked the birth of photography has inverted its discourse and today it is no longer photographers who imitate painters, but painters who follow the path of photographic realism, which is always well received by the public. Are we looking at the end of manual and subjective creation of the image? Everything points that way. The presence of photographic image —cinema, television, video — in the contemporary world is complete. Nowadays hardly anybody, except perhaps children, draws from memory, in other words forming an image on paper in which what they have just seen corresponds to 10% of the results, whilst the mental archive provides the remaining 90%.

The response to the enigma proposed by these works of JC Roca Sans lies in the fact that they relate to contradictory practices until finding the unexpected solution that allows them to move through surfaces and obliges them to show their two faces, which is the same as revealing the real one. This surprising hybridisation between art and science converts drawing into photography, exploring the possibilities of digital tools, by acting on the very first visual art: drawing by memory.

The singularity of this proposal lies in the fact that it does not have its origin in shots taken by a camera, but in drawings that tell a story, created by the author himself, for whom life —whether his own or that of others— is always a passionate theme to be shared. So far, there is nothing new in this, if it were not for the fact that the drawings are photographed and worked on with digital retouching programs to explore the expressive effects of light. The result is that the drawing becomes a photograph, with effects similar to baroque etchings or expressionist films, as they share the representation of drama as a common feature.

By exploring order and chaos in parallel, with formats of painting, photography and video and making the various media and supports dialogue with each other, Roca Sans breaks down the barriers that separate the new supports from the old ones, which are two sides of the same coin. By means of this he dismantles the pretension that only new things are worthwhile and shows that art does not progress in a linear way but that it advances by updating its origin.



Chair in History of Art at the University of Girona


“Hybridization seals the key to the future. The media intoxicate each other and the most interesting result of this intoxication is not the mere technological transfer, but the conceptual one.”

(Joan Fontcuberta. La cámara de Pandora)



Illuminating the past with the memory of the present



The story we are dealing with today, “Cyprus. The Border”, is, in the author’s own words “a piece of work that explores the political and human controversy of the island of Cyprus”. Its title refers to the physical and ideological separation which has been dividing the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities for thirty-six years.

Roca Sans, with the rigour of a researcher, analyses the historic events and uses them as the background to a specific story or, rather, he situates his specific fictitious story within the context of the history of real events. He makes use of the experiences he has had in the specific places, his study, his research and finally his opinion about the historic events. On his trips, he takes notes, he draws, he prepares travel notes. Like the painters at the beginning of the 19th century —before the French realists and the Impressionists, before painting “en plein air”— who were inspired by nature and later did the painting in their studio.

The plastic results obtained proceed from a transformation of these notes sketched in his notebooks. From there, the painter describes his technical and conceptual process. “We know that image edition programs are used to improve photographs. But you can go even further if you act to transform and enrich sketches which, once they have been photographically rasterised, are worked on using digital tools. The later “analogical” non-intervention is what, in fact, makes them photographs. What reaches the public therefore, are technically photographs, however, it is quite clear that the intention is to go against the image constructed through a lens that imitates the human eye. My objective is to establish a production context in which manual art and science set up a fruitful dialogue,” he states.

The result is a plastic narration, such as those which are found throughout the history of art, such as those found, for example, since the Hispanic miniatures of the 10th century in which the narration of diverse scenes is developed in a sequential way. From then on, until the arrival of comics in the 20th century. They are not photographic documentaries, they are not films; they are drawings made from the retention of accumulated views, that technology has transformed into the result you can see today. From the plastic point of view, we are looking at drawings done in black on textures such as watercolour, in which ochre tones predominate, but also sometimes very pale blues and greens.

The sequences in the video are accompanied by an offstage voice which explains what we are seeing, giving place to a fully constructed tale, which the drawings explain in a detailed way. Description of landscapes, of complex scenes with many characters, solved with bold, essential strokes, given perspective, achieved both thanks to the drawing that has several planes of depth as well as the whites obtained where no paint is applied. Light that comes from several focuses and that contributes to the volume of the scenes. Some of them seem to be inspired by Goya’s engravings; others, due to the treatment of light in a unique focus —this is the case of a central candle— bring to mind tenebrist paintings.

The three supports: video, catalogue (conceived as a graphic novel) and the exhibition of the work make up a unit in which the characteristics mentioned offer a full response.

Clearly, Joan Carles Roca Sans takes sides in the historic events in “Cyprus. The Border”. It is the implication of the artist in today’s world, in specific subjects. And he does it in such a way that his art is formally conditional on what he explains; he chooses the plastic method for doing it. It is an invented story, but it is an invention that involves describing a specific, real historic reality as a chronicle, as a documentary, as a comic. But using drawing and painting, using art, which is his language.


Eduard Carbonell



Look at this intervention by Cohn-Bendit:

“There is another way to help the Greek budgets, which is to take the political initiative of promoting the disarmament of the region. In other words, an initiative so that the Turkish armed forces withdraw, for once and for all, from the North of Cyprus.

We are complete hypocrites. We lend money to Greece at very high interest rates so that they can buy aeroplanes and submarines from us. If we are really responsible, we should guarantee the territorial integrity of Greece between all of us. I believe that this would be more effective than cutting salaries of less than one thousand euros.”

Speech by Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the European Parliament (5/6/2010)