By Margaret Sheard….

There is a wonderful museum and research centre located in Ermou Street just across the north/south border of Cyprus that is looking to raise its profile and International soprano and Grammy award nominee Demetra George Mustafaoglu has set herself the task of helping by arranging a concert at The Centre of Visual Arts and Research (CVAR), which is to be held on 19th September 2016.

CVAR
The Centre of Visual Arts and Research (CVAR), Nicosia

CVAR will present CONCERTS WITHOUT BORDERS – Music Fit for a Queen on 19th September 2016 with the awardees from the US State Department’s Cultural Diplomacy Award, international soprano Demetra George Mustafaoglu, and mezzo soprano Katie Economidou. Joining the group will be well known singer Lenia Kallis from the South and 10 year old Peri Bektasoglu, a student of Demetra who attends the English School of Kyrenia (ESK).

Upon arrival a welcome drink will be served; then a cash bar will open, the proceeds of which will go to CVAR. The five star museum restaurant will be open for dinner prior to and post concert time. The concert will start at 8pm and Opera will open the program then head into Broadway, movie songs and ethnic music. You haven’t seen the likes of this ever before!  Remember 19th September  –  SAVE THE DATE NOW!  Demetra looks forward to seeing you then!

A visit to the Centre of Visual Arts and Research (CVAR), Nicosia

We paid a visit to CVAR and were accompanied by Demetra George Mustafaoglu, Figen Rasmussen and Tom and Billie Roche of Living Magazine.

Candle for Peace
Candle for Peace by Emin Çizinel (2003)

We were completely amazed when we saw the amount of work which has gone into creating this wonderful Centre which covers many eras of both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot cultures on the island.  As well as tableaux showing various stages of culture on the island, there are hundreds of paintings by artists from many different countries which show the Cyprus culture through the ages.

Rita Severis and her husband Costas started their collection as a hobby with paintings, their first painting was by William Wylie and cost in the region of £500 then came more and more so at this time Rita went back to university to study for a PhD in art so she would be able to assess what she was buying.  The collection expanded and progressed to the point where their house was not large enough to accommodate everything and so with the help of USAID grants, EEA grants and Norway grants, the premises where the museum is now located was refurbished to house all of the collection.   During our tour we also saw the last painting which had been purchased, a very significant work called Candle for Peace, a collage and watercolour by Emin Çizinel, a Turkish Cypriot artist.

Some of the many paintings and watercolours
Some of the many paintings and watercolours

The collection is spread over 4 floors and it is an absolute delight to wander around and see such items as the last flag to fly at Government House, the theodolite used by Lord Kitchener, paintings produced by the Jews who were interned at Karaolos Camp (there were 52,000 Jews passing through Karaolos and other Camps between 1946 and 1949 and 2,200 babies were born during this time). There are wedding gowns from different cultures and eras and many chests with drawers housing baby clothes and the various forms of attire worn by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Paintings by interned Jews
Paintings by Jews interned in Cyprus

Having read a great deal about Caterina Cornaro, the last Queen of Cyprus, I was enthralled to come across a room within one of the floors with a life-size Caterina and many paintings showing various stages of her time as Queen of Cyprus.

Caterina Cornaro
Caterina Cornaro, Last Queen of Cyprus

There is a whole room designated to the memory of Glafcos Clerides, the 4th President of the Republic of Cyprus in the form of a study/library with his original desk and chair and there are around 3,000 books lining the walls.  Billie asked if she could sit at the desk and so we had a photo-shoot in this room.  Rita told us that she wants to keep this room alive and so meetings and AGM’s are held there from time to time and new enquiries are always welcome.

l-r Billie Roche, Demetra Mustafaoglu, Tom Roche, Figen Rasmussen, Rita Severis, Margaret Sheard
l-r Billie Roche, Demetra Mustafaoglu, Tom Roche, Figen Rasmussen, Rita Severis, Margaret Sheard

CVAR opened in 2014 in the heart of the walled city of Nicosia, and as well as the collection which is exhibited, there is a library and research centre where over 10,000 volumes are available to scholars and casual readers.   There is a café and roof garden and on the ground floor CVAR hosts a wide range of activities, workshops and seminars supported by the Foundation and its partners to promote understanding and a peaceful coexistence.

The Centre of Visual Arts and Research (CVAR) is headed by Executive Director, Dr Rita C. Severis and Marios Rayias is the financial controller. CVAR’s librarian, Theodora Petrou, assists scholars and researchers.  Aliki Yiannakou and Dora Kolypera are responsible in the museum and for the educational programs.

Balthazar Café & Lounge Bar are managed by professional staff, headed by manager Stephanos Constantinou and chef Grigoris Popravkin. The CVAR also benefits from contributions by a team of dedicated volunteers to whom it is grateful.  Rita Severis told us that she receives no funding from any source other than from voluntary contributions and this is why Demetra has the desire to help this Centre to be able to continue for the benefit of all who love the history of Cyprus.  Rita said they arrange corporate events with catering, films are shown and theatre productions to try to boost their income to cover the costs of running the centre.   Tom Roche asked what would happen if the worst came to the worst and the centre had to close, would they consider selling some of the valuable paintings?  Rita simply replied – no, everything would be locked away.

Cultural life
Tableaux showing Cyprus life

We were so impressed with what we saw, it is so obviously a labour of love and Rita is so proud of her collection.   We took many photographs, too many to display here, so we would recommend a visit to the Centre where you can spend time browsing around the 4 floors and finally sit in the outside or inside cafeteria area which is extremely pleasant and sit back and muse over what you have seen.  The centre is disabled friendly, there is a lift which takes you to the top floor and then it is possible to work your way down along the sloping floors back to the ground floor.

Centre opening hours

Winter –  09.30 to 17.00 (closed Monday)

Summer – 10.00 to 18.00 (closed Sunday)

The Research Centre is closed on Sundays

Admission is 5 euros for adults and free for students and children.

Tel: +357 22 300 999

Email: info@severis.org

Webpage: www.severis.org/cvar

Facebook: www.severis.org/facebook

Below is some further information about the collection from the CVAR website :

About the Collections

The Centre of Visual Arts and Research hosts the Costas and Rita Severis Collections.

The Travelling Artists Collection contains more than 1.000 works of art created by foreign artists during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  These works on Cyprus depict sociological and historical aspects of the island and its people.  Visitors can appreciate and understand the relations between the various communities, through scenes of everyday life, street scenes and peopled interiors. Representations of monuments and villages, as well as landscapes, enable the scholar to follow the architectural development in towns and villages and the changes in the countryside, as well as the transition from the traditional to the modern. The artwork reflects the attitudes and prejudices of the artists, as well as their inspirations and influences.

Dress tableaux
Tableaux showing dress of different eras

The Costumes Collection includes 500 pieces of costumes, clothes, shoes, hats, bed linen, curtains and embroidery, spanning from the early nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century, and shows the influences from the East and West on the development of the local Cypriot dress. Many original costumes, including those of High Commissioners, consuls, and pashas are exhibited, as well as wedding dresses, furs and christening robes.

The Colonial Collection includes Government House (1878-1960) memorabilia like guest books, dinner services, and furniture.  It also includes cigarette boxes, travel labels, souvenirs, maps, handkerchiefs and many more ephemera.

Last flag and theodolite
Government House memorabilia

The Research Collection includes more than 5.000 books on art and travel, diaries and travelogues to Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and the Levant. Many old and rare books, as well as a large number of modern books, especially reference books, are available to scholars and researchers. Archival material on many historical subjects, newspapers (1880-1950), manuscripts and information on artists, are deposited in the Research Center, as well as a large number of photographs and films from 1880-1960.

Smaller collections include posters of Cyprus, political cartoons, botanical illustrations, and an important collection of paintings referring to the last tragic queen of Cyprus Caterina Cornaro. A collection of depictions and memorabilia of the Cyprus Deportation Camps of 1946-49 provides an interesting insight into those times.

Dervish tableau