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Christos Kyriacou explains how he started teaching in Limassol schools, before his own graduation!

31/01/2020
* NOTE: All the tributes of All About Limassol (as the Official Guide of Limassol) aim to ONLY highlight the special aspects of this wonderful city, so that everyone can be aware of the exceptional options they offer. Under no circumstances do they have any promotional or nominal value, and they do not serve the interests of Companies, Municipalities, Organizations or Individuals.

Before he had finished school, he had already taken on the role of a teacher. He had barely received his first paycheck before starting his own business with a mere €800 to his name. Within a few years, the work he had started in the streets of Limassol was sought after by large companies and hotel complexes throughout Cyprus. And this was just the beginning for 26-year-old Christos Kyriacou from Agia Fyla in Limassol, who discovered early on that success would not necessarily come with a university degree.

If one were to judge him based solely on his teenage years, they would assume he was a delinquent spray painting his way around the city. For indeed, that was how Christos got his start, by graffiting every available surface. He managed to avoid the stereotype, however, and turned his hobby into a career of a lifetime, and his work led to the introduction of graffiti art as an unconventional class in two Limassol schools.

Delivering classes to private schools from the age of 16, Christos had already spent 10 years in education. At 19 he began teaching in a public school, offering teenagers barely younger than himself the opportunity to channel their energy onto white surfaces in a creative and imaginative way. During this time, Christos also found himself deeply involved in the organization of the Street Life Festival, an annual event that has been filling the streets of the historical center of Limassol for the last 13 years. Restless and talented, Christos is a typical example of a young Limassolian making waves in the local community, forging his own path. And this is the reason behind this tribute by All About Limassol (the Official Guide of Limassol).

By turning his dreams into reality, Christos has played a role in the unique colors that adorn Limassol today, incorporating ‘street art’ into peoples’ daily lives.    

Were you taught the art of graffiti?
I am self-taught. Of course, at the behest of my mother, I took some GCE art classes in high school, and some of that knowledge has proven useful to this day.

As a student, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I chose Technical Education, specializing in carpentry, so that I could then go into the field of industrial design. My plans changed, however.

My father expected me to pursue something that would allow me to succeed him in the carpentry business. I wanted to make my own way in the world, but it did not me far from this business, after all.

Besides, I hadn’t ruled that out, but by the time I was finishing school, this type of work had already begun to diminish due to the crisis, so there wasn’t much need for me in the business. At 17 I had already begun teaching graffiti art at Studio 8, after winning a competition with KEAN when I was still a student.

“It was then that I announced to my parents that I didn’t plan on going to university and I would focus on the art of graffiti.” 

Was graffiti widespread when you started out?
Not at all. In fact, during the first 4 years it was difficult to even find spray paints. There was a group of about 10 young people graffiting in Limassol, and after asking each of them, I was able to find a supplier.

Graffiti was something I had learned and developed myself, by drawing on school walls.

Did you run into trouble when graffiting in public places?
A headmaster happened to catch us once when we entered a school to graffiti it. We explained, however, that we would be careful with our work and not make a mess. Once he saw this for himself, not only did he allow us to continue, he also brought us snacks.

Aren’t these young people the ones who are responsible for vandalizing public places?
The history of graffiti may be rooted in vandalism, but the various forms of street art that were developed along the way are considered to be something that can enhance the image of the city, and this is a goal worth working towards.

“The aim of the graffiti artist was always to make their presence known with their ‘street’ name. People may just see shapes and colors, but these artists know each other and there are distinctions between them. 

When did you decide to delve into this type of art?
I began to take graffiti seriously during a family trip to Paris, when I began to see this form of expression adorning buildings, bridges, and subway stations in a very unique way.

As I took art classes for 8 years, I always considered myself to be more of an artist.

I consider myself privileged that my parents were able to offer this advantage to me. They both have artistic sensibilities and, after I had won a children’s art competition at age 10, they realized it was worth enrolling me in art lessons.

How did you end up teaching graffiti in Limassol high schools?
I became involved in these teaching programs from the age of 19 to this day, at 26. The fact that I had already taught at Studio 8 helped me begin my collaboration with public schools.

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“I believe that people have finally recognized what graffiti art can offer to teenagers, as it allows them to express themselves freely and creatively, demonstrating ways to use spray paints without vandalizing.” 

Did this have a positive impact on the students?
The class was offered to high school students of all ages, and the truth is that the majority of students who attended these classes were considered the ‘troublemakers’ of the school. However, once they began engaging with the graffiti classes, it was noted that nightly vandalism of the school premises during was significantly reduced.

Some of my first students eventually became my partners.

How did students react to seeing someone who was practically their age in the role of a teacher?
I never felt like a peer with my students, even though we didn’t have much of an age difference. On the other hand, I never treated them as though I had absolute power.

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“I passed on the notion to my students that I was the person who would help them utilize certain tools, but they would have to discover their own personal style.”

I think this should be the approach of any teacher or educator. Even today, after 8 years in this position, I follow the same approach.

Has there been an interest from both boys and girls at school?
Every year, all the classes I taught at high schools were made up of only boys. It’s a shame, because I’m not even sure if the teacher responsible announced to the girls that they could apply for this class.

Today, there are festivals exclusively dedicated to women street artists in Europe, and we strive to be as inclusive and representative as we can at the Street Life Festival too.

What kind of relationship do you have with the other teachers?
I didn’t have any particular relationship with the teachers at any of the places where I taught. Even as a student, I noticed that much of what went on at school was meaningless. Most of the people there are old, and harbor an old fashioned mentality, having become complacent in a standardized education system without ever making an effort to learn something new.

Fortunately, in recent years, I am seeing a tendency towards focusing on creative activities within the school, so that students can familiarize themselves with them.

How much are you paid? Is it worth it, financially?
I would only make €100 a month for these classes, for 5 months out of the year. These €500 were certainly not my lifeline, so that wasn’t why I did it. The reason I did it was so that I could be in touch with young people who were involved with this art form, and help them develop it for the future. Some of the first students I taught are my partners at the studio today, for instance.

Relevant

“The Street Life Festival is not just a graffiti event”

Christos has connected his work and his dreams with the Limassol of the future, through the largest street festival to take place in Cyprus. He was fortunate enough to come across the Street Life Festival early on, and his dedication to it earned him the trust of Yiotis Kyriacou, the brains behind the organization.

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The Street Life Festival is not just about the graffiti, but rather has to do with an entire philosophy behind keeping the city alive, with people in the streets, engaged in various activities.

When did you become involved with the Street Life Festival?
I began participating in the Street Life Festival in its second year. I warmed up to it immediately, and my parents would help me set up scaffolding, carry material, etc. This was why Yiotis, whose brainchild this was, suggested that I participate on a more active level.

I ended up being responsible for a large part of the preparations and the supervision of the artists on the day of the festival.

Could you have imagined that the Street Life Festival would last 13 years?
I knew that since it was the only festival of its kind, and it attracts more and more people every year, there would be no reason for it to stop. Once I became involved in the organization of the event, I was confident that we could pull off everything we had planned for each year. Even today, 13 years later, I know that we have a lot more to create and offer to Limassol, with the participation of everyone.

An entrepreneur with €800 capital

At age 23, having already taught in the public and private sectors, Christos decided to open up his own studio. Making up the core of the 2C Design Box creative space, he attracted talented young professionals (designers, photographers, filmmakers, tattoo artists), giving a professional accent to the activity he had begun developing. 

“I opened the store at a time when the market was down, after the historic haircuts, with a product that no one was familiar with.”

The only capital I had was €800 from my job at summer schools. €400 went towards the first rent payment, and I used the rest to set up the shop. Initially, we didn’t even have lights, so we only worked during daytime hours,” says Christos.

People may have been unable to see any future prospects in this thing I had started, but I could always feel when something was going well and could move forward.

“I know myself very well and I know what I need to do to achieve the goals I set. Fortunately, I had moral support from my parents, who understood my vision, even if they were unable to support me financially,” he says.

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Many companies and businesses have asked you to create something in their space. Does this please you?
The paid jobs are certainly not the most creative ones, because you need to tailor your work to the customer’s requirements. I do these jobs so that I can make a living, though at the same time, they are a good way for people to become better acquainted with this form of art.

I had also undertaken a project to create a portrait on the wall of a school in London, and I realized that things are very different there.

People are more familiar with this form of art, and I was met with an entirely different approach. People would see me working on the portrait, and they would watch me carefully, asking to find out who I was, where I was from, and if I had an Instagram page of my work. In London, for example, there are street art tours, where visitors can tour the various painted walls in the city.

From the mural in London.

Do you think we could have these kinds of guided tours in Limassol at some point?
It’s not very likely, because we still don’t have a large enough pool of artists who will go out on their own initiative and create street art, rather than vandalize. This may take a while. Until a few years ago, there were no professional spray paint vendors, so this wasn’t an art form that could develop easily. This was one of the reasons I decided to supply spray paints myself, for the Street Life Festival and the growing demand for street art meant that I could no longer depend on others for something I was doing professionally.

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In less than a decade, Christos has had the opportunity to become involved in a number of projects, from the Limassol Carnival to the creation of murals in large hotels.

“Limassol lacks vision and will.”

Does Limassol inspire you as a place of action?
It’s a city with beautiful elements and it has potential, but it lacks vision and determination from people in key positions.

The funds are available, but the care given to the city’s image and the quality of life it offers is sporadic, with no real plan for a comprehensive upgrade.

For example, if works need to be done in a certain area, this area should just shut down for a few days so that the work can be done quickly and completed as soon as possible. There also seems to be a barrier when it comes to adopting innovative solutions, even when they are relatively simple, such as underground trash cans.

Through the Street Life Festival, Christos and his friends meet people of all ages and abilities, who are excited about all that the event has to offer.  

Does this image disappoint you?
Very much so. On the other hand, however, it is precisely because I am so disappointed with those in charge that I become stubborn and want to make sure that everything I do has a positive impact on the city. This is one of the main reasons I took on such an active role with the Street Life Festival, because it is something that is already making a difference in Limassol and I know that it can do even more.

Scenes from the 2018 Street Life Festival.

What changes would you like to see in Limassol?
In terms of aesthetics, which is an area I am familiar with, our city is quite lacking. I believe this has much to do with some of the major Limassol events, such as the Carnival or the Wine Festival. If these events are not substantially upgraded in order to continue to remain relevant for the newer generations, they will inevitably lose their momentum.

One of the artistic interventions in downtown Limassol, within the context of the Street Life Festival. 

Christos has gained the professional experience that many young people need years to develop. He made conscious decisions for his future when he was a teenager, and became even more decisive with his actions as he grew older. The certainty and gravity with which he conducts his life are rare virtues, but what is most significant is the fact that he wants to use his skills and talents not just for his own professional development, but to improve his city.

Though the €1000 allocation of funds for the introduction of graffiti classes in two Limassol high schools has been discontinued, Christos hopes to soon be able to offer classes in his own workshop. His head is filled with ideas and his hands never stop working, and this is set to open up many opportunities for his young business, which he plans on expanding to Nicosia in the coming years. As he continues to evolve into an entrepreneur, he remains deep down an artist and a skilled craftsman, with the ability and the determination to continue contributing towards the improvement of the image of Limassol, especially by upgrading and expanding the Street Life Festival. The optimism and determination behind everything that he does is proof that the younger generations are following in the footsteps of the previous ones, and are using their assets to give an impetus to the development of Limassol.