The Planting of a Fig Tree : by Chris Neophytou, COVID-19 Responses

The Planting of a Fig Tree

Chris Neophytou is a photographer and publisher based in Birmingham. His ‘Out of Place’ books is a platform developed to publish photobooks and to promote photography as a way of exploring and learning about people and places. His project ‘The Planting of a Fig Tree’ was made with the Greek Cypriot community in north Birmingham during Covid and 2020. He focuses on how the challenges of Covid-19 and measures such as lockdown and social distancing have affected this community. How families are isolating together and apart, how communities are finding new ways to connect, and how the myriad of business owners are reacting to the changes in working conditions. The work looks at how the community is adapting to and coping with the challenges of practicing their faiths, at what unites and what divides through this time and at the distance felt between Birmingham in the UK and family and heritage in Cyprus.

The Planting of a Fig Tree
by Chris Neophytou

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Project Statement

The term ‘diaspora’ has its etymological roots in the greek word  ‘διασπείρω’ (diaspeírō) a word meaning to scatter, ‘dia’ a prefix indicating motion in all directions and speírō, “to sow”. All immigrant communities have a relationship with distance, A sense of both physical and spiritual separation. This distance becomes increasingly intricate with the arrival of each generation, the growth and assimilation of one community into another.
There are more than 300,000 people of Cypriot ancestry in the UK, 15,000-20,000 reside in the midlands, with a thriving community in Birmingham. The Covid-19 crisis has brought with it a new form of distance. Families are isolating together and apart, business owners adjust to changes in working conditions and new challenges are being faced in practicing faith and traditions. The community searches for ways to connect.
The seeds sown by the first generation and cultivated ever since; the community centre, the churches, the weddings, christenings, the traditions manifested in family dinners, food, music and  storytelling; places where that distance could be ever so slightly closed, where home can be found away from home, are now places that lay empty and seemingly lost. Where once people gathered loudly there is now a stillness, a quiet emptiness that seems to find its way into these photographs.
Scattered 3373km from Cyprus we have not only planted the seeds of our culture into our community we have in many cases physically planted seeds. Almost every Cypriot I know has a fig tree, almost certainly an olive tree and probably a sprawling grape vine. Although the community may find it difficult to share a crowded dinner table on Sundays, or hug and kiss grandchildren after church, it is a shared culture, a shared identity, and shared relationship with distance that has kept the community together.

About the Artist
Chris Neophytou is a photographer and publisher based in Birmingham. In his own work
and through his publishing at ‘Out of Place’ books he is interested in closely exploring and
learning about people and places.

Image Credit: Notes On My Family, Chris Neophytou

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.