Migrants Illustrate Perceptions Through Art in Cyprus

In honour of International Museum Day 2022, CVAR, the Center of Visual Arts and Research, hosted an exhibit featuring the art of two Congolese migrants. CVAR, located in the heart of Nicosia’s old town, collaborated with Caritas Cyprus to bring the “Cyprus through the Eyes of Migrants” exhibit to life and showcase the talents of Tresor Nkogo Yaba and Francis Mupini. Highlighting the Power of Museums, the official theme of this year’s International Museum Day, CVAR commissioned art from these migrants to show their perceptions of their lives in Cyprus and inform the public of the realities they are faced with daily.

Tresor and Francis’ art depicts a vision of Cyprus that is particular to migrants like them. Their pieces capture the struggles of leaving one’s home and trying to find one’s place in the world as external forces get in the way. Importantly, the theme of “perception” is present throughout this exhibit, from migrants’ perceptions of Cyprus and Europe to their perceptions of themselves.

In his painting “Utopian Dreams,” Tresor illustrates the paradox between the subject’s expectations of Europe and the realities. The migrant depicted in the painting imagines that if he works hard enough, he can work in an office or become a football player. However, the reality that he sees when he arrives in Europe does not match this expectation. Discussing the painting, Tresor says that “no matter what happens in Europe, we can’t change anything about the reality we are facing.” This is why the migrant’s hand is covering his mouth—he must stay quiet and not express his emotions. Tresor’s other painting, “The Reality of Life in Cyprus,” depicts the life of Black migrants in Cyprus, where Tresor says they experience racism. The migrant was pushed toward alcohol consumption when he realized that what he imagined Europe to be did not match reality, and he realized that he did not have hope for the future.

Francis has been in Cyprus for one year and through his artwork has tried to portray the reality of the relationship between migrants and Cypriots. While walking around the city center, he came to understand how Black African migrants live. Francis’ painting titled “A Dream in Uncertainty,” similarly to Tresor’s paintings, depicts an African migrant. He is a victim of racism, and his mouth is taped over to show that migrants are not permitted to express how they feel and what their needs and wants are. The cut-up beer cans that make up the man’s clothes represent the drinking that many resort to due to a loss of hope. When presenting his painting, Francis noted that when artists have difficulties and lack opportunities to show the world what they feel, art offers a rare opportunity to share and amplify their voices. Francis’ other work, “The Dark Painting,” aims to convey the multiculturalism of Cyprus. The flags of the many countries represented on the island are shown in the painting alongside a lightbulb that Francis calls “the lamp of understanding.” The young man in the painting wears glasses to better see what is happening around him. On the left side we can see someone playing the piano, which Francis says represents the need to mix black and white in order to bring out the perfect sound. On the right side, which depicts hands of different races, is a call for brotherhood, according to Francis.

Like Tresor and Francis, many migrants come to Europe with a background in art but few find the resources or occasions to create and showcase it. The “Cyprus Through the Eyes of Migrants” exhibit illustrates what is possible when local organizations collaborate and engage with those perhaps on the margins to share their experiences and uplift their creative voices. CVAR has now put out an open invitation to anyone in Cyprus with a migrant background to submit their art and tell their story, which will be featured in a digital exhibit on CVAR’s website.