In the photographs of Voula Papaioannou you may meet the eyes of this country's children. Their need for playing. But also the weariness of difficulty. The burden that has been forced on them by the institutionalizing manner, in which they were always treated by this country.
"How pretty are my new shoes!" is the little girl thinking as she looks at them startled and surprised! Those shoes that once upon a time the godmother brought once a year! And this was the most important present.
Little Noula of Kapralos. In a waiting position. For a future that will always contradict her expectations.
And the little shepherd boy. With his brother. At a photograph by Nelly's.
Generations of Greek children passed from walking barefoot and for kilometres to school across to PlayStation, Lowers and Certificats. From ferules and slaps to tutoring-english lessons-ballet.
My country insists that it loves its children. That it educates them and spoils them. That it makes them grow with her affection and her milk. But she is also a Medean country that kills and devours her children.
Anyway, what is my "homeland"?
"Patrida" (homeland) in Greek is feminine. Love is a woman. Hug is a mother. It is also hope and consolation - all of them feminine words. Dignity is also there. The women of Souli of Zoggolopoulos are holding hands, they grow bigger and climb higher, until they fall off the cliff. Goodbye, cruel world.
The women of my country are fighters. And workers. And mothers. And wives. And widows. This photograph is Nelly's. And the verse "Ah, yes, and I forgot to tell you that the ears are gold and vast, because I love you" belongs to Tassos Livaditis.
Because you are erotic and ethereal, just like Nelly's immortalizes you in her photographic lens. Old as the stones, perfect as the pillars that uphold the universe.
Proud and insubordinate. Like Melina. "When I go out of my door, there's nobody that I don't love. And at night when I sleep, I know, I know that I'll dream of him".
Meditative and sensitive. I think about that whenever I go into a bookstore. When I go to the theatre. When I observe social action initiatives around me. When in the basement of the building next door, every afternoon, I see ladies of all ages gathering and painting.
Woman of Bost. With a gaze somewhat oriental. From Constantinople and from Smyrna. With a slight grin.
Effie with a red blouse. Of Vourloumis. Women at all ages. Young, middle-aged, elder.
This is the great Niki Karagatsi -wife of M. Karagatsis- painting her own reflection on the mirror.
Woman is progressive and conservative. Mother and mom. And mommy. With the Tupperware and the jacket. So that you'll not catch cold. So that you'll eat well. And drive safely. For everything you've got, it's mostly because of her. For your good and your bad side.
And sometimes, she's an idealist. The severe bust of the writer Melpo Axioti. She was born in 1905, lived on Mykonos and on Tinos. She got married and settled in Athens, she worked as a seamstress. And then the war broke out. And she joined EAM and the Resistance. During the Civil War she was forced to live in self-exile in France, in Italy, in the Soviet Union and in Poland. She taught Modern Greek Literature at the East Berlin University. She returned to Greece in 1964 after a decision of the Hellenic Government. She died in May 1973 in an old people's home. With progressive amnesia and body depression.
Life is nothing but a fight. In the coarse shapes and the forms of one of our greatest engravers, Vaso Katraki, black comes ahead and makes you suspicious.
In the photograph of Kostas Balafas, the Woman of Epirus, dressed in black, it comes forward to confirm this. My country is colourful and black & white. Its funny and tragic. It is familiar to me and foreign.
I meet my country in the beauty of the ancient Greek statues. In the idealization of body and mind. Again in the photographs of Nelly's.
The same in Harisiadis Photos. School of Fine Arts, 1957. On this land the statues learned to breathe. Some found their breaths here, others were forfeited from them.
If you didn't follow this two-day presentation from the beginning, we are at the Benaki Museum, in the section for the Greek Artists of the 20th Century. In the home-studio of Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas. We gaze at photographs, listen to music, admire paintings, remember spiritual people that defined for us, our modern, national cultural identity. And we are trying to find what could ideally define Greece. Oh, this country has so many faces.
The soldier in the photograph of Voula Papaioannou. With his battle cape and the crotches. With a clear look.
And the herder of Kostas Balafas. With his carved face, his moustache and the cigarette in his mouth.
The great artists of the interwar-period generation and others that followed them during the '50s and the'60s, have endowed us with a chest of values. In its center there is humanism and the splendor of belonging. In these difficult times, these can be our only compass towards dignity.
My ideal country is defined geographically by rationalism in thought and Dionysus rampage in soul. This is the country I miss. This is the country I'm talking about. This could be also the country for all of us. If we were more worthy. And luckier.
No, I'm not going to let you go with the Oscar award of Vassilis Fotopoulos for "Zorba the Greek". I'm going to leave you with a "syrtaki". And a loud and relieving "opa"! The one that swallows all bitterness and injustice. Which opposes ancient philosophy against hilarity and misery of today. Because you are my country. And in you, I'm trying to complete myself.
* Thomas Athanassiou was kind enough to send me also the second part of this post, translated in English. Thomas, I am grateful. Even though you live abroad (or because of that), may your heart be full of this ideal homeland.
*Ο Θωμάς Αθανασίου είχε την ευγένεια να μου στείλει και το δεύτερο μέρος αυτής της ανάρτησης, μεταφρασμένο στα αγγλικά. Θωμά, είμαι ευγνώμων. Παρότι ζεις στο εξωτερικό (ή εξαιτίας αυτού), ας είναι η καρδιά σου πάντοτε γιομάτη από αυτήν την ιδανική πατρίδα.