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Capturing religious expression

 

By Melissa Hekkers

In the heart of Anexartisias Street in Limassol, stands an arrangement of photos by internationally-acclaimed Israeli photographer, Natan Dvir. The images form a travelling outdoor exhibition entitled ‘Belief’, initiated by the newly-founded BPRarts Art & Cultural Management company and co-organised by the Embassy of Israel in Cyprus.

“There was the desire to open up the dialogue between Cypriot society, at the crossroads of civilisations and, to a certain extent, heir to these diverse religious practices,” reveals Catherine Louis Nikita, director of BPRarts, reflecting on the show’s title.

Due to travel to Nicosia this coming week, the photographs on display depict Dvir’s fascination with the extreme situations people reach in the pursuit and defence of their beliefs – the places their beliefs take them to and the scenes in which they take part.

“Having been raised in Israel, I was regularly exposed to strong religious, social and political beliefs and ideas from an early age. Holy sites situated throughout Israel make this physically small country extremely important for Jews, Christians, Muslims and many other religions,” Dvir tells me when asked how he began recording the practices expressing belief.

“The region’s history, combined with the volatile political situation today, result in a complex and intense reality in which people emphatically and publicly express themselves,” he says. “As a photojournalist and documentary photographer, I found myself photographing at many religious ceremonies and politically-loaded situations. I was fascinated and sometimes frightened by the extreme situations people reach in the pursuit and defence of their beliefs, and decided to explore its power and the role it plays in our lives.”

Yet Dvir’s intention was not simply to document a specific event. The photo project ‘Belief’ also carries connotations of self-reflection, since viewers can relate to the images on a more universal level and contemplate the power of belief and its place in their own world.

For Nikita, it was the societal context of the work which she found relevant to Cyprus today that prompted her to bring Dvir’s images to the Cyprus public.

“Natan Dvir’s approach has an ecumenical character which I found interesting to emphasise in a country like Cyprus, where there are few opportunities to highlight religious practices other than those of Orthodoxy,” reveals Nikita. “I thought it was interesting to stimulate reflection and curiosity about the religious practices that men and women from three monotheistic religions can have in a neighbouring country like Israel … the Ambassador of Israel, Ms. Ravia-Zadok, accepted the concept of the exhibition with great enthusiasm.”

“I hope the audience in Cyprus will respond positively to the exhibition and relate the subjects I explore to their own personal reality,” adds Dvir. “This is an opportunity to learn a bit about Israel, its holy places, and the ceremonies that different religions pursue. The themes of this series are universal and the exhibition is an invitation to view some unfamiliar traditions and reflect on the place belief plays in the lives of each and every one of the viewers.”

As a whole, Dvir’s work focuses on the human aspects of cultural, social and political issues, realms which interest him due to their potential to evoke contemplation – both for himself, but also for his viewers.

“I explore themes and stories that strongly interest me as a person, and which I think I can get people to think about,” he says.

“I feel that, as an artist, I have a responsibility to evoke contemplation and understanding by sharing my point of view with my audience, or creating a visual platform for examination and discussion. Sometimes, a subject will grab me and I will plan how to translate my interest into a project. In other instances, I find myself photographing a theme which I’m subconsciously interested in and I decide to explore it further in a more intentional way,” he says.

To date, Dvir’s work has featured in prominent publications such as The Times and Le Monde.

“Photographing for leading international magazines allowed me a platform for sharing my projects with a wide audience worldwide, as well as being able to benefit from the valuable advice of the professionals I work with. I love seeing my work in print, but have to say, I am also very excited about opportunities of sharing my pictures through online publications that can offer a different viewing experience.”

BPRarts chose to introduce Dvir’s work in public, outdoor spaces – perhaps an unconventional approach, in comparison to the photographer’s printed oeuvre.

“Exterior exhibitions are a very effective way to get in touch with large audiences, especially in Cyprus, where cultural practices, especially in the visual arts and photography, are still considered elitist proposals in a country where the exhibition spaces are still very limited,” Nikita offers.

“This method has been proven a popular one among the public throughout Europe, and notably in the context of large festivals that can gather hundreds, or even thousands of visitors in an attractive setting within public squares or even seafronts.

“This form of exhibition is very convivial and should sharpen the curiosity of the general public, just as the proposed photographic and artistic project by Natan Dvir, which calls for a dialogue and a better understanding of the other,” she continues.

The exhibition ‘Belief’ is supported by the Municipalities of Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos. The exhibition is currently on display in Limassol at Afxentiou Square until Monday, May 15. It travels to Nicosia’s Town Hall Square on May 16, where it stays until June 4, thereafter moving to Larnaca, along the Finikoudes promenade, from June 9-27, and finally to Paphos’ Town Hall Square from July 1-12.

 

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