Christoforos Savva (1924, Marathovounos, Cyprus – 1968, Sheffield, United Kingdom), was arguably the most important Cypriot artist of the 20th century. Born in a village in what is now the Turkish part of the island, Savva fought for the British army in the Second World War (in a company of soldiers from the British colonies, at the time including Cyprus), which allowed him to study in London and later in Paris, once the war was over. He returned to Cyprus at the end of the 1950s, settling in Nicosia. There, in a very short period of time, he produced a unique collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture pieces, architectural features, very free experiments with wire and cement, and a series of patchworks from fabric leftovers, which he called yfasmatografias (literally meaning writings or drawings on fabric). With the same ease with which he moved from one technique to another, Savva could produce figurative and abstract works in the same period, as though technical and stylistic questions did not concern him, in a sense suggesting that the core of his artistic work lay beyond the works, in the world itself.
In May 1960, having recently arrived in Nicosia, Savva, together with the Welsh painter Glyn Hughes, founded Apophasis, an independent cultural center, a first in the brand-new Republic of Cyprus, which had just gained independence. Apophasis means "decision", and the diversity of the events organized there demonstrates how the decision to create a space was a highly conscious and necessary gesture of expanding and rupturing with what, until then, had been considered art: in addition to exhibitions by both founders and by other artists of the same generation, the space presented performances, theatrical plays, poetry readings, film screenings, a show of drawings by children and, significantly, a collective exhibition of both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot artists, a particularly courageous statement of intentions considering that the ethnic fractures that would lead to a bloody division of the island in 1974 were already more than evident. It could even be said that the dynamic and eclectic activity of Apophasis created an institutional counterpoint to the stylistic freedom of Savva's work at the time, where almost contrasting references, materials, techniques and artistic traditions coexisted (from classical Greek and African art to local artisanal work, popular art, informal art and pop art). Every area the artist worked in coherently and consciously reflected the contrasts that marked life in Cyprus at the time, and the choice to merge distinct influences without forming a judgement of value or establishing hierarchies, as well as the use of different techniques, suggest the need to stay open to others and differences, even more so when the times seem to suggest a different stance (which, of course, makes Savva an extremely relevant and necessary artist today).
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).