Speech by the Former Commissioner of the European Union for Culture Mrs. Androulla Vassiliou at the Nemitsas Award Ceremony for Visual Arts on 8/10/2015 at the Presidential Palace

Mr. President, Esteemed guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fine arts and culture in general are part of our very being and it is no coincidence that man has been involved in art since prehistoric times, long before he was involved with science and letters. This is why I think it is so important for a Foundation that rewards excellence should include Fine Arts in the sectors in which it presents awards. I therefore congratulate the Takis & Louki Foundation for their remarkable initiative.

Most of us have admired the beauty and aesthetics of the classical ancient Greek statues of Phidias, Praxitelis and others, the beauty of Michelangelo’s Pietà, or a wonderful work by Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci, enjoyed the music of Beethoven and other classical composers and have been captivated by Tchaikovsky’s ballets and the operas of Verdi and Donizetti to mention just a few.

But, although all these classic forms of Art shall remain eternal and shall forever be part of our European cultural heritage, our civilisation and art, like all aspects of life, change and develop with time. As the ancient philosopher Heraclitus said Everything Flows. Our society changes, Art progresses and we humans also change.

I am sure you were confused when you first heard a Benjamin Britten opera or watched a Maurice Béjart and Alvin Ailey ballet, visited the Pompidou Centre of Contemporary Art in Paris or the Tate Modern in London or were fortunate enough to experience the exhibition by Weiwei, the famous Chinese contemporary visual artist. Contemporary creators of art, like the classics in their time, are influenced by their environment, by the political and social conditions of the country in which they live and work, by events and circumstances that leave their imprint on society and the nation.

Christodoulos Panayiotou, from Limassol, the Cypriot artists who is being honoured tonight, falls into the category of contemporary visual artists, and, despite his youth, has already established himself internationally. His works are to found in prestigious museums and contemporary art galleries. He has taken part in numerous significant exhibitions in various parts of the world.

It may sound strange, but Christodoulos has never studied fine arts. He studied choreography and anthropology and switched to visual arts in 2003. Something I have always said to the young people I met during my post as European Commissioner is that the young, and especially today’s youth, who face enormous challenges in the globalised world in which we live, is that they should constantly keep searching, to strive for fulfilment and achievement.

In doing this, they must use their imaginations, their creativity and have a vision. These are Christodoulos’ characteristics. Influenced to a large extent by his involvement in social anthropology and drawing stimuli from the countries he lived in and from the country in which he was born and grew up, he creates original works and concepts that, as I have already mentioned, have already established him as a successful European creator of contemporary visual art where the concept has been prioritized by traditional aesthetics and where, according to Flint, who first introduced the term conceptual art, is art in which ideas are its material in the same way that sound is for music. He says: “My work always revolves around ideas that often emerge through observations of the social content”. So, for one of his works, he was inspired by studying the archives of Limassol Municipality on the renowned Limassol carnival and gave his own interpretation of the carnival through 80 coloured slides. He says this about it: “The Limassol carnival is a revelation for all that we would want to be, everything we know that we cannot be and everything we cannot accept that we are”.

One of his works, exhibited at the Stockholm Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003, was inspired by a photograph depicting wooden boxes containing antiquities ready to leave Kyrenia port for Sweden. When he was asked whether he was conveying a message with his work he replied: “Can the public of a country understand messages of a work that is based on the culture of another? No, I am not trying to pass on a message. And if there is a message I don’t even know what it is. What interests me is that ideas are dialectical placements”.

Christodoulos is representing Cyprus this year at the Venice Biennale and the curator of Cyprus’s participation, Omar Kholeif, had this to say about him: “Panayiotou’s work is characterised by a unique artistic vision that expresses a series of social policies and historical settings. His work does not only concern the framework of Cyprus but extends to the wider region of the Mediterranean and beyond it”.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that this is a shining artist who will continue to honour Cyprus abroad and who will be an inspiration for the youth of Cyprus. I wish Christodoulos – along with my congratulations – continued creativity and success.