September 28, 2021

From Istar to Aphrodite: Treasures from Cyprus on display in New York for the first time

An exhibition entitled ‘From Ishtar to Aphrodite – 3200 Years of Cypriot Hellenism’ presenting art and artifacts from the island of Cyprus will be held at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York from the 23rd of October 2003 to January 3rd 2004. The exhibition, under the auspices of Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos, President of the Republic of Cyprus, and co-organized by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities and the Onassis Foundation, focuses on the lasting effect Greek culture has had in shaping Cyprus’ cultural development. The 85 works that will be displayed, many of which are leaving Cyprus for the first time, demonstrate how Cyprus became one of the main outposts of Hellenism in a very sensitive and important area of the world.During a press conference held today at the Onassis Center , the President of the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, Mr. Stelio Papadimitriou, spoke about the uniqueness of the exhibition that is being presented in the United States for the very first time and offers an opportunity to view the best of what Hellenism has to offer.

In turn the Director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities and curator of the exhibition, Dr. Sophocles Hadjisavvas, referred to the concept and objective of the exhibition which is to demonstrate the long process of Hellenization of the island of Cyprus and its intangible, authentic Greek heritage. Dr. Hadjisavvas noted that Cyprus today in the beginnings of the 21st century, plays exactly the same role that it played throughout antiquity: it was and remains a bastion, today of the EU to the East, and in antiquity of Hellenic culture to the East. He added that all life came from the Orient, and many aspects of the Oriental culture came to the West – the West represented in antiquity by the Aegean .

Dr. Hadjisavvas went on to explain that the title of the exhibition ‘From Ishtar to Aphrodite’, is a symbolic one. The process of the Oriental influence coming to Europe was always via Cyprus , beginning in the early Bronze Age (circa 2400 BC), due to the wealth of Cyprus in copper deposits, it became a place where all the cultures or representatives from the region, met. Aphrodite, he noted, was born according to Greek mythology in Paphos , Cyprus and tracing the eastern symbol of Ishtar in the origins of Aphrodite, symbolizes Cyprus ’ role as the easternmost bastion of Hellenism and the fact that Cyprus is a melting pot of numerous cultural influences. Thus Ishtar, who was known as the bloodthirsty goddess of war, in Cyprus became the goddess of love, the mother goddess, who has been replaced by the Holy Virgin Mary today.

Dr. Hadjisavvas explained that from the 11th century BC in Cyprus there is evidence of Greek burial customs, and the first manifestations of Greek culture which from the very beginning became the intangible, supreme heritage.

In response to a question concerning the origin of the artifacts and in particular whether they were recovered before the Turkish invasion of 1974 and whether excavations continue to this day, Dr. Hadjisavvas stressed that the invasion represents a very difficult moment for Cyprus . Since 1974 there have been no foreign missions working in the occupied area of Cyprus . At the moment, he added, there are two excavations in the occupied part, one in Salamis undertaken by the University of Ankara , which constitutes an illegal excavation according to the script and spirit of the 1956 UNESCO recommendations which prohibit the undertaking of any excavations in occupied areas. He noted that it is also a violation of the 1964 Hague Convention, specifically the 1st and 2nd Protocol, which was ratified by many countries quite recently. The second excavation is in the village of Akanthou , which is a prehistoric ceramic site. In the occupied area there is systematic looting which goes against all provisions of international law, he emphasized.

The Minister to the President of the Republic of Cyprus , Ambassador Pasiardis added that there are no foreign archaeological missions in the occupied part of Cyprus , but there are many missions undertaken by the Turkish occupation army to destroy everything reminiscent of the Hellenic past of Cyprus . He explained that the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was a very tragic event but at the same time, the lootings and the destruction of everything there, officially by the Turkish occupation army, is very painful and very tragic.

Concerning the origin of the 85 works in the exhibition, Dr Hadjisavvas stated that they came from the Museums of Cyprus mainly, with four objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and four pieces from the Dimitris Pierides Foundation Museum in Larnaka.

The Onassis Cultural Center hosting the exhibition “From Ishtar to Aphrodite: 3200 Years of Cypriot Hellenism” is located at Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue , and is open to the public from 10am to 6pm , Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.