An ethnic food event for the ethnological museum, Nicosia - House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios. Dinner for 6, main course, moussaka.


The Greek national dish, Mousssaka,  - includes an inch of French bechamel cream sauce and 700 calories per serving. The story behind this dish starts in the early 1900. Tselementes, a Greek chef, believed that French cuisine was much more sophisticated than the simple Greek food, and developed recipes and cooking styles based on sauces and French methods of preparation to "cleanse" Greek food of Ottoman and Middle Eastern  influences that had been incorporated over centuries, influences Tselementes saw as barbaric. 




at Maroudia’s

A Re Aphrodite Project

July - December 2012

at the House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios – The Ethnological Museum

20 Patriarchou Grigoriou St., Nicosia


 How do you represent the unrepresentable, unrepresentable due to overexposure (made banal or sensational due to facile coverage), effacement, omission, repression (self and external)? How do you represent that which has been drained of meaning, misrepresented to the point of oversaturation, yet underappreciated, and its innate complexity misunderstood, covered up, neglected to the point of absurdity?


Maroudia (date of birth unknown, date of death unknown) was the second wife of Dragoman Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios (1750 - 1809), the niece of Archbishop Chrysanthos (1766 - 1810) and the lady of the house which hosts this exhibition (built in 1793). She makes for an eloquent example of lost, forgotten, overwritten, or misinterpreted herstories, and even more so, of her social, moral and visual sensibilities. Things that have been erased not only because of her gender, but also in Maroudia’s case because of her time (?): a time understudied, overlooked, neglected due to the fact that its pre-modern, non-western, character has mostly precluded usefulness as past to the present of a European country.


In 2001, curator Jayce Salloum used variations of the above quotation to write about representations of the Arab World in, or for, the West, and particularly of attempts to represent “the Palestinian condition/state/state of being –”. In 2003, artist Sedira Zineb borrowed it to write about her own artistic desire to open up the paradoxes, ambiguities and symbolism of the veil. We feel no remorse in hybridising, adulterating, taking advantage of it further: on a first level Salloum’s play on words allows us to reflect on gender-related metaphors, (in)visibilities, and paradoxes in Cyprus specifically, drawing from our own situations, genealogies, and frustrations – a recurring theme in Re Aphrodite’s previous work. On a second level, Salloum’s play on words allows us to reflect on the invisibility of women on a variety of spheres, including the historical record. These two levels outline a condition which we suspect must (how can it not!) be connected with the prevalent misunderstandings and the omnipresent, extravagant kitschification of goddess Aphrodite – this overwhelmingly complex Cypriot archetype, often standing as a pe*rsonification of the island itself. As such, she is not only cheaply reconstructed, tourist-oriented, packaged and sold but she is also in a perpetual state of being raped, invaded, looted and desecrated: a perverse state of passivity that we only wish to light-heartedly point at. We ♥ Cyprus and Cyprus loves us.


Speaking of home, the museum is a Europa Nostra-awarded renovated monument: the 18th century home of the family of a Christian-Ottoman official, a dragoman, dorgman, tardjaman or interpreter, and a tragic, if controversial historical figure. The house was the first example of urban architecture in Cyprus to be officially recognised as an “Ancient Monument” (sic) in 1935, while the museum began to be haphazardly established in the 1960s and has mostly been left untouched since the 1980s, when it was restored with considerations of Ottoman authenticity while keeping its mostly colonial décor. It is now also known as “the Ethnological Museum” (sic). The challenges of intervening in such a space are also the thrills. The whole thing is a gorgeous, or perhaps a gorgeously a-historical (and perhaps for this reason to be considered “ethnological”?) medley of objects, with vague claims to domesticity. Given that there are plans for the museum’s complete reinvention, capturing and coming to terms with what the museum reveals in its current state becomes a worthy pursuit.


The participating artists were invited to use the tensions contained in the layered history of the house, to challenge old myths and narratives and weave together new ones; to reflect on a number of real and perceived crises, to challenge out-of-context appropriations of western discourses, colonial and post-colonial paradigms, paradoxes and paranoias, and to look at the history of the house as a museum as well as a home; to deal with the effects of tourism on Cypriot tradition, heritage and nationhood, employing but also moving beyond the kitsch; to comment on dominant, unsettling, controversial or empty Cypriot dualities, pretences and debates, and to consider Cypriot femininities as they are embraced, denied, rejected, exposed, and as they allow insight into the way that Cypriot ethno-national identities and socio-political realities are shaped.


A number of contributions were made specifically for the house, entering into different types of site-specific practice, while others belong to pre-existing projects. For some of the contributors this is their first time participating in a contemporary art exhibition, while some of them are artists with well established reputations, or professionals and scholars in other fields who we invited to try and put their thinking in different terms. It is also important to see this exhibition in continuity with previous related projects, dealing with similar issues. The 2003 exhibition “The Languages of Gender” brought together works from Cypriot artists, and their take on male-female and other polarities. The 2008 exhibition “Paris/Chypre” invited Cypriot artists to present their work in Paris precisely “as Cypriot artists” in a way that exemplified a Cypriot self-consciousness in relation to the European art system, as well as the artistic use of goddess Aphrodite in relation to Cyprus to a variety of ends. The 2010 exhibition “Looking Awry: Views of an Anniversary” put a twist that has been “[re]produced by the official, dominant rhetoric of the institutions and mechanisms that have been defining us, ever since the establishment of the Cypriot state.” Many of the themes that persist in at Maroudia’s find precedent in these projects.


Visibility, invisibility, ways of looking and ways of being looked at, representation and misrepresentation became points of departure for the development of this exhibition. The project has been largely concerned with the way that various types of subjectivities are created and played out, and with the exploration of the masks and pretences we manifest as to produce narratives that work in our favour. “Drag”, as defined within queer studies has been a useful term within the development of this project,as a paradigm of identity performance, whether this be national, cultural or sexual. The drag (the first half of the word dragoman) becomes a metaphor through which we can speak of the mundane ways in which, gender, ethnicity, culture, history and sexuality are appropriated, performed, worn and played out. Drag, in this sense, within the context of this museum, demonstrates the impersonation and approximation through which individual and collective identities are constructed and the deep, inevitable, contradictions of identity performance.


The staging of this exhibition within the “Ethnological Museum” inevitably creates representations but also allegories around group definition, regarding how we relate to others and how we develop feelings of belonging based on similarities and differences. A number of works offer a blurring of these categories, challenging the supposed foundations of cultural belonging, and exposing the instability and usefulness of ethnic definitions. Lia Lapithi provides a great summary of this point, responding to the museum in its purported ethnological capacity, its role within official narratives of heritage and thus its formative role in substantiating various group definitions and boundaries. Her piece “Mousaka” comments on the redesign of this Eastern and Ottoman dish by Tselementes, and its standardisation after its literal ‘dressing’ with a non-eastern culinary element (the béchamel sauce). Offering an allegory of how museums actively shape ethnological definitions, the piece also points at a denial of Ottoman cultural elements within Greek self-understanding. Cooking, in this sense, exemplifies the way in which controversies around identity and difference are played out in a sub-political level, in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, the Balkans and the whole area previously known as the Ottoman Empire. Lapithi takes this further by inviting a group of Cypriot women, who have in common outstanding pioneering careers in each of their fields, and are now retired as well as widowed, to have lunch within the museum, thereby reflecting on mechanisms of inclusions and exclusivities.


Extract from exhibition catalogue: "Terra Mediterranea - in Crisis"  ISBN 978-9963-575-79-4