The modern Ithaca of Noris Ioannou

Exploring shifting self-identity from the perspective of the migrant

The transition from Adelaide to Melbourne, and the exploration of his shifting self-identity is Dr Noris Ioannou’s metaphor for his experience of the migrant. From the village near Larnaka, when he was only three-years-old, Ioannou migrated to Australia.
This experience of moving (this time as close as from Adelaide to Melbourne), has inspired the artistic nature of a writer, author and cultural historian to create 25 artworks and paintings that will be exhibited from 1 to 22 September, at J-Studios Artists Community, in Fitzroy North.
To Ithaka – the other side of the fence is a visual documentation of the artist’s relocation to Melbourne. But also, it is the view of a migrant, with the cityscape being a metaphor for identity. This is a first solo exhibition of Ioannou, who has practised painting in a professional capacity for around 12 years and has participated in over 10 group exhibitions.
Ioannou believes the first hurdle for an artist is to have their own solo exhibition to show that “maturation of technique and ideas”.
“A good technique is not enough,” says the artist, “if you don’t have a good content. Even though I’m self-taught, I felt that my technique has achieved certain level, and that I have the ability to express my ideas, my story, and more important – the courage, to tell my story, to show it to the public.”
In his first solo show, the Greek Cypriot artist explores number of themes, most of them concerning the move from Adelaide to Melbourne one year ago, and his shifting self-identity within the spatial – and metaphoric – context of the city. Part of the title of the exhibition – Ithaka – derives from the famous poem of Constantine P. Cavafy that has influenced Ioannou strongly. The second part – the other side of the fence – implies the artist’s view on life, from a new angle – that of a person, maturing trough life’s challenges. Ioannou agrees that it can be seen as an inevitable, slightly different view that migrants have on life and other people.
“It’s about taking a journey in life. At my age, one looks at life from a new and different perspective, with more wisdom and more accepting look. Being in Melbourne has been stimulative for me, my new paintings – the city, its people and architecture. It’s a kind of personal maturation,” says Ioannou, who has found inspiration in Melbourne itself.
Another stimulation for artist is the visual one. Travelling to work, he could see Melbourne and the high buildings in different colours that made him feel a need to paint the impression of what he saw.
“These paintings capture the mood, my own or of the city, dark or bright, futuristic and apocalyptic… Melbourne is painted not only as it is now, but also in new perspectives, 2000 or 5000 years in future. You can take it as striking apocalyptic view or just my own, individualistic. I don’t follow current trends, I put on canvas what I feel, strong emotions and my dreams. The paintings are the metaphor of emotional state. I want the viewers to look at it, past the obvious, and explore their own feelings. Realism is not something that I do, I like the impression.”
Passing the Melbourne cemetery in Carlton North every day, the artist notices the old cypress trees. Tall trees, that according to some etymologic suggestions, the name for Cyprus may have been derived from, are another metaphor that Ioannou uses for himself.
“There is an obvious inspiration in the cypress tree,” Ioannou says, referring to the tree name, “that I absorb from my homeland.
“I have been doing series of paintings with cypresses on different background. Cityscapes and cypress trees are two common motives that can be seen at this exhibition, amongst other,” says Ioannou, adding that his Greek Cypriot background has never let him go.
“The strong Greek tradition has stimulated me, it helped me to understand my identity,” says the artist.
And if the influence of artist’s background is not obvious, then it can be seen in tendency to work with, and for people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Following a career of 11 years as a secondary school science teacher, Ioannou became a writer, cultural historian and academic in the area of Australian folk culture, multiculturalism and arts. He was an Executive Director of Nexus Multicultural Arts, advocating the development and showcasing the arts and communities from diverse cultures.
The migrant experience has never disappeared from his identity. It has defined his path, that of a person interested in different cultural backgrounds. This exhibition is exploration of changing self identity, between Adelaide and Melbourne, or, if you prefer, between Cyprus and Australia, tough abstracted landscape style and super-realism.
Dr Noris Ioannou has written six major books, including The Barossa Folk: Germanic Furniture and Craft Traditions in Australia and Masters of their Craft. Interested in changes that happen when people change their surrounding and blend over with other groups, a thread of tradition and folk can be seen trough whole opus of Noris Ioannou.
Despite the love he has for painting, he will never give up writing – there are still couple more manuscripts to be finished, one on the Cypriot food tradition and its connections with Middle East.
The exhibition To Ithaka – the other side of the fence of Noris Ioannou, opens on Saturday 1 September, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and will remain in J-Studios Artists Community till 22 September. The address is 100 Barkley Street, North Fitzroy.