For nearly a century, Disney’s eclectic assembly of animated characters have persisted the hopeful notion of Happily Ever After. (And the certitude that a duck without pants is always quick to anger.) Like modern-day mythology, Disney stories take seemingly ordinary characters and place them into extraordinary circumstances, through which they eventually persevere and often learn a lesson along the way. Boy meets genie and earns the heart of a princess after he discovers that true value lies not in material riches but in love. Girl meets a gang of small men and learns that a prince’s kiss will revive her after she has been poisoned by a witch. (This one’s less about perseverance and more about Happily Ever After.) Mouse, Duck and Dog take an unpredictable drive through the countryside in a house-turned-precariously hitched trailer, during which time their bond of friendship strengthens. In any of these cases, the ultimate lesson or happy ending is revealed via the entertaining exploits of characters whom we grow to love. Disney characters are iconic and far-reaching. They are recognized the world over for bringing joy to children and adults, alike.
One community of particularly exuberant Disney fans has caught the eye and intellect of Cyprus-born artist, Christodoulos Panayiotou. In researching the city of Limassol’s Municipal Archives, Panayiotou has discovered that Limassolians have a decades-long tradition of dressing up as Disney characters during the town’s annual carnival parade. Since the 1970s the people of Panayiotou’s native town have adopted some of Disney’s most beloved personae. In his 2008 piece, Wonder Land, Panayiotou depicts this curious tradition through 80 color slides. While the phenomenon might appear as nothing more than eccentric to some of us, the artist—who refers to it as an “obsession”—has a much deeper interpretation. In a conversation with Nicos Charalambidis, published in Art Papers, Christodoulos Panayiotou says, “The parade is a kind of revelation of everything we would like to be, of everything we know we cannot be, and of everything we cannot afford to accept that we are.” In explaining how Wonder Land came to be, he says, “When I began my research at the carnival parade’s archives, the unusually large number of Disney-themed floats, costumes, and masks struck me…I interpreted it as an indication of a kind of popular, subversive reformatting of the official aims of the parade, which presents itself as a continuation of the Hellenic tradition, in both historical and mythological terms. I then tried to isolate the many Disney themed photographs, as I realized that their inner logic reflects my concept of the complexity of the island’s identity.”
Wonder Land and other new and recent work by Christodoulos Panayiotou is currently on view in a solo exhibition curated by Michelle Cotton at Cubitt Gallery in London. Panayiotou was born in Limassol in 1978 and studied dance and performing arts in Lyon and London. He has exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art Oxford; The National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens; Taipei Biennal (2008); Busan Biennale (2008); MoCA Miami; Rodeo Gallery, Istanbul and Künsthalle Zurich.