biographical overview | Melina Nicolaides | artist, curator & founder of ACTIVATE
As her life was shaped by repeated relocation between different regions of the world and diverse cultures, her arts practice and other endeavors were also equally informed by this reality of constant reorientation.
Melina Nicolaides, originally from the island of Cyprus, was born in Washington, D.C. and moved to New Delhi at the age of seven. Her childhood years were spent in Asia, followed by secondary education in Geneva, Switzerland, and completion of her studies at The British School of Rome. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in History from Princeton University with the thesis ‘A Problem of Authenticity and Representation in a 19th Century Vision of the Orient’, as considered through Verdi’s opera ‘Aida’. Following an extended training-period in Brussels at the E.U. in the sectors of communication, information and cultural heritage, she went on to earn a multi-disciplinary MFA from Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA); she attended with an A.G. Leventis Foundation Scholar Fellowship, and received the institution’s 1997 Graduate Award in Painting.
As a visual artist, her work has been exhibited in several solo and over 50 group exhibitions internationally, in the USA, Europe, Middle East/N. Africa, and Asia, and she has received multiple governmental and institutional exhibition grants (painting—film—installation) in Cyprus and art fellowships in the USA, including three from the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities of the NEA. Her work has been reviewed in very diverse publications, such as the Washington Post, ArtNews Magazine, Playboy Magazine, Contemporary Practices Journal, and can be found in public and in private art collections in the USA, Europe, and in the Middle East. Parallel to these endeavors, she also participated in cross-disciplinary workshops and conferences with topics such as ‘art, culture, and identity’; ‘art for conflict resolution’; ‘art as activism’; ‘art to communicate the sciences’ over the years, which expanded the scope and purpose of her arts practice towards cross-disciplinary and research-based projects.
A move several years ago to live for the first time in her homeland of Cyprus was motivated by a desire to focus on themes inherent to the Eastern Mediterranean & MENA area. In this new context, her enquiry was directed towards the exploration of the environmental challenges faced by countries of this region. Such issues include a growing demand on resources, the decreasing availability of fresh water, degraded agricultural landscapes, and declining food productivity—many of which have been exacerbated by ongoing political and societal changes. Through this investigation and research, the objective of her work professional developed into something broader in context and marked a new trajectory in her career.
Drawing upon her personal experiences as a starting point, she established the Nonprofit Arts Organization ACTIVATE with the intention of creating a ‘zone’ in which to present projects developed through the exchange of knowledge between people with varied disciplinary knowledge and backgrounds. The long-term intent of the organization is to create collaborative possibilities for people with a similar approach and commitment to related causes and to develop initiatives that can be more creative and effective than if carried out single-handedly. On a regional level, the ongoing objective is to undertake purposeful projects that are strengthened by this cross-over participation and which can help highlight the ‘connected points’ between the environmental, social, and political issues of this geographical area.
As Director of ACTIVATE, she is currently focused on curatorial work and creating cross-disciplinary projects that specifically address climate change-related challenges of the Eastern Mediterranean & MENA area. These research-based projects bring together people from across this region and diverse fields of knowledge to build creative and solution-oriented collaborations related to water, food and energy security.
She is Permaculture Design certified, is a member of the Advisory Board of the Future Earth MENA Regional Center, and serves on the Steering Committee for the E.U. Interreg MED Program ‘Aristoil’. At present, she also serves on the Steering Committee for the upcoming regional scientific conference “Water in the MENA Region: Preparing for a Changing World” that will be hosted by the University of Bahrain early next year. In collaboration with the University, she is also currently working to develop a series of partner events and public projects for 2019-2020 that will serve to broaden the mission and scope of this conference.