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Bringing old airport to life
A new exhibition presents Nicosia airport as we have not seen it before, although it might seem like déjà vu to older viewers says ZOE CHRISTODOULIDES
Striking buildings abandoned in time can have a haunting effect on the senses. What was the place like when it was filled with life? What will become of the building as the years and decades go by? Will it ever be returned to its former glory? When the building is one that has been abandoned following a period of harsh political conflict and strife, what remains practically untouched by human presence becomes all the more daunting.
With the Nicosia International Airport bearing great wounds from the 1974 Turkish invasion, the site is one that has quite literally stood frozen in the past.
Standing as the scene of some of the heaviest fighting between Cypriot and Turkish forces, the United Nations Security Council stepped in to declare the area as a protected spot at the time of the 1974 conflict. This required both sides to withdraw at least 500 metres from the perimeter of the airport. After the ceasefire was signed on August 16 1974, the airport became part of the UN controlled buffer zone, closed off to the general public ever since.
As time went by, a few local photographers and artists have been given permission to enter the airport and record what remains of the past, with an abandoned Cyprus Airways plane standing as a stark reminder that the place was once a hub of traveller activity.
An artist has a bee in his bonnet about how we, the general public, should perceive the airport space is about to unveil something altogether new. Andros Efstathiou will open an exhibition within the quirky Isnotgallery in Nicosia this Friday evening. Having decided to take the plunge and go a step further than those before him, he has added a human dimension to the barren landscape, as if the airport has once again come to life. And, Andros actually got in contact with staff that used to frequent the airport as old Cyprus Airways crew came together to have their pictures taken in what used to be their daily port of call.
“I didn’t just want the airport to be something that people associate as a place of the past that is now dead,” explains the artist. “I wanted to give hope that it could come to life again one day. This exhibition isn’t just about documenting the old architecture of a building. It goes far beyond that.”
With the Nicosia airport initially constructed in the 1930s as the British Royal Air force station, it went on to be used as the principle airport of the island. During the Second World War, the airport facilities and runway were extended by local contractors Stelios Joannou and George Paraskevaides. By 1948 Cyprus Airways and a couple of other airlines were providing regular flights to and from the island. But at that point, just three basic Nissen huts were used as terminal buildings.
It wasn’t until 1949 that the first terminal building was designed by the Public Works Department at a cost of £50,000 and was opened in May of that year. The building was then vacated in 1968 with the opening of a brand new terminal boasting 60s style architecture with plans to enlarge the terminal in 1974. The invasion however put an end to it all and the airport became etched in people’s minds as a rather tragic symbol: one of division, abandonment and wastefulness against the ravages of time.
The very fact that the airport stands as symbol associated with rather negative connotations made the project an all together challenging one for Andros. Wanting to move away from stereotypes, he no longer wished for the airport to be seen as some sort of untouchable thing lost in the past. “It’s not just a memory and it’s not just an image on a postcard or something that we can see online,” he insists. “This was and is a real place. It has stories to tell and it was once filled with people. Who knows? That could happen again.”
The images taken are striking, with the former Cyprus Airways pilot and stewards having stepped back into their 1970s uniforms. Walk into the exhibition space and you’ll come across the airport documented not as a piece of static architecture, but somewhere that has suddenly taken on the role it used to possess.
The whole project in itself was hardly an easy task what with permissions needed and plenty of supervision upon entering the building. That’s not to forget that parts of the structure are now crumbling, with Andros concerned that something needs to be done soon if it is to be preserved. But once inside, the photographer hardly needed to think of how to go about the task at hand. “The people involved were posing at certain points, but not for the most part. Don’t forget that they had a million things and memories to share. Most of it just came out naturally,” he says. There were jokes shared, experiences exchanged, sentiment unravelled and nostalgia dished out every step of the way. As Andros clicked away, the messages that he wishes to share with the general public became more than obvious.
No longer a ‘silent graveyard,’ everyday life stories have been captured on camera in such a way that the otherworldly atmosphere of the airport suddenly shouts out for attention as if to say: “Look at me, I’m still here and I’ve got countless tales to tell.” As the time between “then” and “now” remains rather awkwardly suspended, the uncomfortable gap takes on new meanings with a revival of what once was, topped off by a defiant hope of what can be.
Nicosia International Airport
Solo photography exhibition by Andros Efstathiou bringing the old airport to life. Opens July 20, 8pm until August 30. Is Not Gallery, 11 Odysseus, Chrysaliniotissa, Nicosia. Monday-Saturday: 10am-1pm and 4pm-8pm. Tel: 22-343670