2022 has been declared as Literary Year of Iakovos Kambanellis by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, in honour of his contribution to the Hellenic nation both as an artist and as a man. Within this framework, a series of events is organized both in Greece and abroad aiming to bring to the fore the multidimensional work and contribution of the internationally renowned writer to Greek arts and Letters.
Iakovos Kambanellis (1921-2011) was a writer and spiritual man who, though self-taught in his area of expertise, mastered all types of prose and verse, with iconic literary works and essays, unsurpassed theatrical texts, timeless screenplays, and, of course, iconic songs with music by Mikis Theodorakis.
With 40 theatrical works, he is considered one of the most prolific Greek playwrights of the 20th century. He contributed to the liberation of modern Greek theatre from the isolation in which it found itself, redirecting it from a theatre of manners and theatrical revues to social realism, poetic symbolism, satire, and minimalism. He is considered the father of modern Greek theatre and the leading voice to have articulated the reality experienced by the Greek people during the second half of the twentieth century.
As Kambanellis himself eloquently put it, “I believe that the theatre owes its continuous existence -a dynamic presence internationally, in fact, to its fortunately continuous anthropocentrism, which has always been, from the very beginning, its predominant element, its raison d’etre. Since the stage is the space par excellence where humans seek to understand what they are or could be”. He created fully drawn characters who are recognizable, authentic. Beyond his skillful writing, the immediacy of his language is one of the basic reasons that the Greeks identified with his work, loved it, and recognized themselves in his texts.
Dancing in the Wheatfields (1950) launched his long career in the modern Greek theatre. This production was followed by The Hidden Sun, Daddy War, Ulysses, Come Home, and the one acts: The Way, The Gorilla and the Hydrangea as well as other plays which would be performed much later. Recognition as a playwright would come with The Seventh Day of Creation (1956), which was embraced by both critics and the public alike. The Courtyard of Miracles (1957), was hailed as a major artistic event and established Kambanellis as an innovator in modern Greek playwriting.
Τhe intensely unstable political climate of the politically agitated 1960s concerned Kambanellis, who found himself at a critical turning point and reconsidering his modes of expression. He decided to visit London, to study the latest artistic and theatrical trends. This experience led to the writing of The Neighborhood of Angels (1963). The play, which took the form of a folk opera, introduced a new type of theatrical language to the Greek stage.
The imposition of the dictatorship on April 21, 1967, suspended artistic activity in the country, and, like all his fellow writers, Kambanellis, decided to remain silent. He broke his silence with two works: The Penal Colony (1972), an adaptation for the theatre of Kafka’s short story, and the theatrical revue, Our Grand Circus (1973), which, during the course of its 18-month run, became a statement of anti-dictatorship protest. The Broad Bean and the Chickpea (1974) and Our Enemy, the People (1975) established Kambanellis as a symbol of resistance to all forms of fascism.
After an eight-year absence from the theatre, following his appointment as director of ERT Radio, Kambanellis succeeded in making a strong comeback with the play, The Invisible Theatre Company (1989). His concerns about the interpersonal relationships of the declining petit-bourgeoisie of the time and the challenges posed by political recklessness and corruption were expressed in the work, The Road Passes Within (1991).
The clash between the individual and reality was the focus of The Eulogy (1990), while in the trilogy The Supper (Letter to Orestes, The Supper, Thebes Side Street) (1993), Kambanellis engaged in a conversation with Greek and foreign playwrights of the international theatre who had written works based on themes and forms of ancient Greek tragedy. With this trilogy he opened up a new cycle of works of an experimental nature, which he referred to as “studies and first attempts”. The later works, The Last Act, A Meeting Elsewhere, A Comedy, The Difficult Nights of Mr. Thomas, expanded and completed Kambanellis’ oeuvre. In the latter work, a detailed study of heroes in conversation with the writer, the characters express worry and anxiety regarding the decline of the physical body with reference to existential questions.
His plays have been staged by nearly all modern Greek directors and have been performed by the National Theatre of Greece, National Theatre of Northern Greece, various Greek regional municipal theatres, National Theatre of Cyprus, and independent theatre companies. They have been translated and produced in the U.S., England, France, Germany, Italy. Spain, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Romania, Bulgaria, Norway, Lithuania, Turkey, Israel, Australia, and China.
His contribution to modern Greek cinema as a screenwriter was equally significant. In addition to penning the script for The Ogre of Athens, he wrote the screenplays for The Abduction of Persephone, The Carriage, and Girls in the Sun. Kambanellis also dedicated a great deal of professional effort to the radio, writing and producing a very large number of broadcasts characterized by original thematic material as well as adaptations of literary and theatrical works. As a columnist, essayist, and writer of “epikerotita,” or current-events short stories, he contributed to the newspapers Eleftheria (1963-1965), Anendotos (1965-1966), and Ta Nea (1975).
Kambanellis’ experience in the Nazi concentration camp, which had preoccupied him many years earlier, was described in his memoir, Mauthausen. First published by Themelio Publications (1961) and subsequently by Kedros Publishers, the memoir achieved immediate publishing success. With its successive republications to the present day, it has gained renown as a major work of anti-war literature. The sensation created by the book prompted Kambanellis to write the lyrics to a four-song cycle of the same name, set to music by Mikis Theodorakis and performed to great acclaim in Greece and abroad to this day.
In addition to being a playwright, prose writer, and essayist, Kambanellis was a lyricist. His song lyrics were set to music by Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, Stavros Xarhakos and contributed to the development of the modern Greek song. These songs achieved hit status and are still sung today.
A.R. [All images © Iakovos Kambanellis Official site]
Aiming to promote Greek culture, with an emphasis on the cultural heritage of Crete, the 2nd Crete International Poetry Festival opens its gates from 18 to 21 May 2022 with the participation of 15 major Greek and foreign poets from 12 countries.
Held in the cities of Heraklion and Rethymnon, the four-day festival aims to act as the meeting point between the East and the West, bringing together different languages, cultures, poetic writings and expressions. Its long-term goal is to establish a new institution of literature and poetry, to bring together festivals from around the world, and to broaden the number of participants and their countries of origin, offering free speech to all voices and cultures.
Among this year’s distinguished participants will be: the General Secretary of the Presidency of the Hellenic Republic Vassilis Papadopoulos; the advisor to the former President of the United States Barack Obama Christopher Merrill; the former President of the European Writers’ Union Jochen Kelter; renowned Greek poets Maria Laina, Dimitris Daskalopoulos and Anastasios Vistonitis; distinguished Latin American poet José Luis Diaz Granados; award-winning Israeli Amir Or; the great Italian poet Paolo Ruffilli, Slovenian poet and editor Brane Mozetic, Turkish poet Efe Duyan, Latvian Madara Gruntmane, Spanish Raquel Lanseros; poet-performer and academic researcher Philip Meersman; poet and translator André Naffis-Sahely.
The opening event of the festival will take place in Heraklion, on Wednesday 18 May 2022. The festival’s program includes, among others poetry readings, theatrical acts, cinema nights, and lectures by distinguished guests. The festival is open to all those interested in poetry and literature and is definitely worth attending. Stay tuned and enjoy the festivities!
Sofia Labropoulou is a kanun player and composer who merges the worlds of Greek and Mediterranean folk, classical Ottoman, western medieval, experimental and contemporary music. After eight years of playing together with Vassilis Ketentzoglou, they released as Guitar Kanun Duet their first album "Butterfly" in 2019. Labropoulou's first personal album "Sisyphus" was released in December 2020 by Odradek Records to both critical and commercial success as it reached no. 2 in the Balkan World Music Chart and was selected among the best ten records of 2021 by World Music Charts Europe. Sisyphus is a collection of Labropoulou’s own compositions, inspired by an eclectic range of literary and musical sources and featuring a rich ensemble including kanun, shepherd’s flute, oud, santur, kemençe as well as Western instruments such as clarinet, cello and double bass.
Labropoulou spoke to Greek News Agenda* about how she came to study the kanun, the genre of "world music", her love of poetry and how she combines her varied musical influences, her latest album Sisyphus, the literary heros of Albert Camus' "Sisyhpus" and Kostis Palamas' "O Γκρεμιστής" [the Demolisher] that occupy it, and what they can teach us about not losing our connection to earth and memory.
What led you to chose to study the kanun, a very special traditional instrument of the Middle East?
I started studying piano and classical music at a very young age. I was lucky enough to grow up in the city of Kalamata, where the catastrophic earthquake of 1986 worked as an incentive for the local government to strongly support arts and culture in order to regenerate the city. As far music was concerned, this led to the establishment of a model Municipal Conservatory, where from a very early age we had the good fortune to come into contact with some of the most important figures in music at the time, including Nelli Semitekolo, Eleni Zacharaki, Manos Avarakis, George Kouroupos, Kostas Nikoleas, Nikos Tsotras, Stefanos Vassiliadis and Grigoris Semitekolo among many others. Guided by this creative environment that was so generously open to us, simply and effortlessly, and with such open-mindedness, we as students embarked on a whole new journey. The artistic bar was set very high; just imagine studying History of Music at the age of 10 with musicologist Katy Romanou, to mention just one example. For all of us who studied there, that ideal situation is something we always carry with us.
My transition from piano and classical percussion to the kanun was part of a kind of fearlessness that you acquire in this kind of environment. The kanun came just before my piano degree and it was like love at first sight. I left everything without a second thought, and since then I go wherever it takes me, at any cost. What happened before this encounter with the kanun is in effect my dowry in musical training: piano and classical percussion, orchestral experience, classical and contemporary repertoire; serious study; sound and phrasing; meetings and seminars with musicians from very different backgrounds. When the kanun appeared in my life I did not know what music it represented, but I was fascinated by its sound and saw it exclusively as an instrument with infinite possibilities, that I can do with it whatever I want. Luckily, I soon realized that in order to really be able to do what I want, I would first have to learn the music that it represents. So I graduated with a degree in Byzantine Music studying under the instruction of Spyros Pavlakis at the National Conservatory and while I had a lot of work as a session musician, I gave up everything once again and left for Istanbul to focus on what I loved most.
Your latest album "Sisyphus" won many accolades - including a place in the best ten records of 2021 at World Music Charts Europe. Does the label "world" or "global" music cover you? What do you think it represents now?
Indeed, the record is going surprisingly well and I am incredibly grateful for that. I think the label "world music" is an umbrella term that encompasses a lot of concepts and genres today. Inevitably I find myself somewhere there, mainly because of the origin of the instrument. As a reflex response, however, I insist on not belonging anywhere specific and on reserving my right to change and experiment as much as I can. I adopt what sparks my interest and try to incorporate it into my already existing material. I prefer not to hide behind the security of a label, no matter how wide it is. I do a lot of different things and probably each of them could belong to a different category. But in everything I am myself and I do not care at all what it is classified as, or how much people will like it. It is enough for me to like it in the first phase.
Now, what does "world" or "global" music mean today, in a world where technology can transport you in seconds -in the virtual world- or in a matter of hours -in the physical world- to whatever information or place in the world you want? Infinite access to information I think is the key concept. The way each of us handles this situation and how much we delve into what moves us is always very personal. The truth is that everything is, or at least appears to be, within reach.
Tell us about your music. Your influences are varied, including Ottoman music, Greek folk music and classical music. How do you combine these different sources of inspiration?
I try to make the music I would like to listen to, and because I am ruthless with myself, nothing is done easily or carelessly. Anything that gets published has gone though harsh criticism and has traveled an entire journey within me. Not to mention the fact that by the time a piece of my music gets published, I have already managed to distance myself from it. If something does not pass the test of time, it does not come out. Not so much out of insecurity, but more out of a sense responsibility. I also love poetry dearly and I admire poets very much. Whenever there are lyrics, the weight shifts there; they come before the music. Moreover, because I very rarely write songs, when I decide to do so, I do it with the utmost respect so that not even a comma will go unchecked. I will dig into it and go in as deep as I can handle.
Beyond classical and modern music with which, as I’ve said, I came in contact from a very young age, the kanun led me to musical roads and worlds that I could not have imagined. Byzantine music and the folk idioms of the Greek and Greek-speaking music world are obviously my primary materials. Ottoman music and makam theory are perhaps the most important areas of study when it comes to Eastern musical instruments. Eastern Mediterranean folk music, medieval music, traditional and free improvisation are things I love and have worked on a lot. All of that in some way makes up my musical personality.
Sometimes my relationship with a musical idiom begins from a personal quest, while at other times from collaborations with people who came from other traditions or represent other musical genres and idioms. Some of my most important collaborations have been with John Psathas, Mamak Khadem, Marta Sebestyen, Efrén López, Lost Bodies, Robyn Schulkowski, Dominique Vellard, Yannis Saxonis, Guitar Kanun Duet, Vassilis Ketentzoglou, Eleni Christou, Kalman Balogh, Xavier Charles, Tijana Stankovic, Ballake Sissoko, Ourania Lambropoulou and Orestis Karamanlis, to name a few.
I defer to the triptych Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis in my own very personal and chaotic way. All the shapes that represent a circular or spiral path to infinity fascinate me. This is how "O Gremistis" is connected with Sisyphus; through the historical continuity of the concept of the Hero. Disobedience is also a driving force in both cases, as well as the questioning of both oneself and of an outdated perception of concepts such as order and security. Sisyphus and Gremistis are both adventure seekers [tyxodioktes]. A word I also really like. But the question here is: Why does this word acquire a negative meaning, so incompatible with its [Greek] etymology?
Palamas’ imperative to “Demolish!" is in perfect harmony with Camus’ Sisyphus’ smirk during his fall. Behind both actions lurks immense joy and relief, as well as this feeling of being driven by a higher purpose, while at the same time being far removed from the notions of polite society, where to fall means to fail. For Sisyphus and the Demolisher, this is just the beginning of a creative journey full of knowledge, experience, awe, courage and freedom from any barriers. The purpose is to go back to basics. To zero. Lest we forget; everything is open and the future is uncertain. Everything is in the here and now.
We live in a time in history where we are mostly surrounded by swampy peaks and lowly leads. By people who are hooked to these top positions and do not let things run smoothly; people with no imagination or vision, who insist on "squaring the circle”. We witness the results on a daily basis: wars, poverty, injustice, inequality. Both "Gremistis" and Sisyphus have a very strong sense of justice, leading by example and paving new paths no matter the cost. They do not take anything for granted; they understand that the real way up is when you do not lose your connection with earth and memory -whatever that is for each and everyone of us.
Dimitris Gkioulos (1984) studied math, translation and European civilization. He currently works as a translator and copywriter. Urban Misfortunes (Thines, 2020) is his fifth book and his first personal poetry book. His poems have been published in literary magazines in Greece and abroad.
Your latest writing venture Urban Misfortunes was recently published by Thines. Tell us a few things about the book.
Well, I started by writing short stories. Urban Misfortunes is my first personal attempt in poetry. Before that there was Antartiko2 which was an almost DIY poetryproject along with Konstantinos Papaprilis-Panatsas, which went surprisingly well. Still does actually. I was happy that Thines owner and editor, Zizi Salimpa loved the draft of Urban Misfortunes and this book has been a pleasant ride so far. I mean, I love having my messenger inbox filled with hundreds of photos of drying racks (a trademark object for the misery inhabitants of urban centers face), inspired by the cover of the collection, designed by Melissanthi Salimpa.
Urban Misfortunes was first of all, a way to understand how the world vastly changes and where we find ourselves in that process. In every crisis in history, there is a generation, one at least, suffering great consequences. This is what Urban Misfortunes is, a way to talk about what we are living. To find out, the collection is visiting the past through three family lunches, a quite common tradition in Greek families, on three different Sundays throughout the years. At the same time, there is the effort of surviving in an urban environment in the middle of a wild gentrification; last but not least, the collection tries to deal with loss, specifically the loss of my mother. Way too many subjects one might say, but still, complexity is a core element of our times.
The notions of time and place are central to Urban Misfortunes. How does your poetry converse with the burden of history, the precarity of the present and the unforseeability of the future?
Indeed. Both time and place are key elements of the collection. We come from somewhere and we are heading towards somewhere, but we are not alone. We carry our ancestors, the little stories of the land we inhabit and the relations we try to form, simultaneously. We cannot ignore the past, there lie most of the explanations of the things we live, there we can find out more about the way we react towards the challenges of life, there may be the key to turn the tables, so that the precarious present will turn into a better future. A future that, yes, at the time being is unforeseeable. So, here in Urban Misfortunes, my poetry acts like a vehicle. Going back and forth in time, in places, living in the present, trying to talk about a future that can be something else, not dark. It is the least and at the same time the most, poetry can do.
Your poetry seems to reflect the frustrations and losses, the hopes and expectations of the so-called ‘generation of the crisis’. Which are the main themes your writings touch upon? Where does the personal meet the collective in your poems?
‘Generation of the crisis’. Yes. I ‘ve been told so. And it something of an honor. I mean, being told that I am somehow capturing what a whole generation is living? Yeah, I am honored. Actually, it is something that was a key element of the Antartiko2 project. There, alongside with Konstantinos, we tried to put into words this feeling of frustration of our expectations. Growing up, our generation was promised a better life than the one our parents lived. I am not saying that my generation agreed on some kind of contract (apart from the social one) and they tricked us, but still, up until now, we are the most equipped, the most trained and well-educated generation and we saw (we still see) our hopes and aspirations crashed and burned.
In Urban Misfortunes, I am trying a totally different approach. The poems are not delivered as slogans on the wall. Here I am not using the same conveniences I’ ve used previously. The political statement is subtle. It is present and it is intense, but yes, subtle is an accurate way to put it, I think. Ηow could it not be political, our lives suffer as a result of certain policies implemented, our relationships of all kinds, our prospects that vanish, our friends that leave to work abroad. Everything is political.
I am certain that Urban Misfortunes is able to converse both with an American worker in Amazon warehouses who participated in the founding of his union just a few days ago, and with a Chinese researcher who lives in a tiny apartment in a Chinese metropolis and does not know what to make of her life. And with all the people in between. At the same time, I want my poetry to be able to converse with the outcasts of the so called first world, the refugees from all over the globe, those who fight for equality etc, but I do not want to do that by writing like I am one of them. Even in this reality, I am well aware of my privilege, of being a western, white male. But rest assured that I will be fighting alongside them until they have their voice. And, although I am often asking myself how can it not all be political, I can see that many people doing (yes, doing) art, do not want to raise questions or even converse with the here and the now, they just want to be easy to digest, likable. I am not interested in that.
“Poetry, can and does record the time; if it is good, it can show you a perspective that you have not even imagined, but at the same time the poet participates in life, experiences its frustrations, lives in the here and now. The poet may speak of a potential future, but he also fights for the here, for the now”. How does your poetry converse with the world it inhabits? Could poetry be used to talk about radically different realities?
I believe that good poetry can come from something you may experience, live or outlive and you take this something and transform it into something else that can speak to people. If it also stands the test of time, then, it is great poetry. I am trying to be a good poet. I am not just writing down staff as a journal I display in public. At the same time, I am not unambiguously defined. I am not sitting in a room, far from everything, writing. I have to go out and survive every day. I am aware that intentionally or unintentionally, art contributes to the formation of a collective unconscious. It is our most sensitive, collective antenna. Art is there to show us all the possibilities as long as things remain claimable. To inspire -even when everything else has failed, that one person which may determine our fate, as Karl Marx would put it. But the artist is a person who participates in society, its struggles; he/she enjoys first hand these small wins, he/she has to live with the great losses.
Which are the main challenges new writers face nowadays in order to have their work published? What role do the social media play in the promotion of new literary voices?
Well, I do not know where to start exactly. There is so much to be said on that subject. I strongly believe that literature, art in general, has not been one of the priorities of the Greek state for quite some time. With the pretext of the Greek crisis, funding was reduced gradually but drastically. If we add to the equation the inadequate way art is being taught in public schools, you feel that it is not considered among the top priorities. Otherwise, how can someone explain that contemporary literature and poetry are not being taught in schools? A naive question: why don’t writers and poets of today serve as examples for students interested in literature and poetry? Couldn’t such interaction serve as inspiration or even as a deterrent to follow that path?
Also, there should be more concerted state support in promoting Greek literature and poetry abroad. Other Balkan states for example, have funds for promoting their writers. These include funds for translating their work in other languages. This is used as a means of promoting their local culture in a globalizing world. Here, this is mostly implemented with funds coming from the European Union, while there seems to be a lack of long-term planning as far as culture is concerned. I believe there is very good quality of works both in poetry and in literature in this land that unfortunately stays inside the Greek borders.
This affects both publishers and writers, both published and aspiring ones and I’ll explain what I mean. Since most publishing houses struggle to survive and the majority of Greek poetry for example is not a profitable choice in editions, it sometimes happens that publishers pass on the cost of publication to the poets and writers themselves, creating a balance where someone who has the funds can be published whether the published content is good or not, and someone who does not have the funds gets rejected even if the content produced is worthy of being published. Luckily, not all publishers are like that, but they look more and more like Don Quixote, romantics chasing the windmills of great art in a world that is becoming more and more cynical. This is another sector where the state could intervene and help towards the publication of better content. It is understandable that we live in a capitalist society with specific rules, but art and its works, even in this context, cannot be treated as sterile goods, they are and they will be much more than that.
The social media is another “place” where people of the same taste and interests can “meet”. During the pandemic especially, there was no alternative, so yes, social media can be helpful and let you find new voices. I am talking more as a reader, who always wants to find something challenging to read, but yes, as a writer also, social media are a means of promoting but also getting in touch with readers who want to talk you about your work, something that, to this degree, has never happened before in history. As everything, social media have pros and cons, it is up to anyone to find the right balance.
For the majority of Greek writers, writing is not a main profession but rather a leisure time activity. In other words, earning a living through writing is the exception rather than the rule. Could things be otherwise?
That is actually a key question. Not only is writing a complete professional activity but for a small minority, but also the writers themselves treat writing as a sideline activityor hobby. We (people of my age) tried, during the first quarantine, to form something that we imagined that at the end of the road would lead to the establishment of some sort of union that would fight for the rights of authors. Τhis was triggered by the fact that artists were among the most adversely affected especially during the first months of the pandemic. The response from those we reached for that purpose was little to zero. At the same time, the existing associations function more as think tanks and less as means of claiming rights.
I feel that we are moving in a direction in which art should be a profitable activity for the state, otherwise it will be left in the hands of the various cultural institutions, which, however, have their own agendas. That's exactly why we need to demand more government care, now more than ever.
Can things be otherwise? Yes. Is it something I see occurring in the foreseeable future? No. Does this mean that we should stop doing what we think is right? No. Maybe, next time we meet and talk, things will look a little brighter.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Norman Sandridge is Associate Professor of Classics at Howard University. He began his academic career at the University of Alabama in Huntsville with an undergraduate major in Physics and a minor in Mathematics. He was chosen best physics student by the physics department in his junior and senior years. He was also the president of the Society for Ancient Languages in his senior year and was awarded best leader of an undergraduate academic organization. Dr Sandridge earned an MA in Latin at Florida State University and was awarded the Rankin Prize there. He then earned an MA in Ancient Greek and a PhD in Classics at the University of North Carolina. He has been an ongoing fellow at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies since 2012.
Dr. Sandridge is a co-founder of Kallion Leadership, an organization devoted to the study of leadership and the training of leaders through the humanities. His research has focused on ancient leadership, including leadership and the emotions, ideal leadership, the process of becoming a leader, and leadership and the contemporary construct of psychopathy. Much of his work relies on the use of digital humanities.
In 2012 he published a book entitled Loving Humanity, Learning, and Being Honored: The Foundations of Leadership in Xenophon's Education of Cyrus. Currently, Dr. Sandridge is co-editing the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Greco-Roman Leadership with Dr. Sarah Ferrario and co-editing with Dr. Mallory Monaco Caterine a SAGE series of business case studies on "Becoming a Leader in the Ancient World".
With the aid of the Public Diplomacy Office at the Embassy of Greece in the USA, Greek News Agenda interviewed* Dr Norman Sandridge on the place of classics in the modern world, the ways in which ancient thinkers can still shape the notion of leadership in contemporary societies, and how these are explored through modern research, including the activities of Kallion organization.
You started off in STEM but then earned two MAs in Latin and Greek and a PhD in Classics. How did the humanities win you over – and was this in spite or perhaps because of your earlier academic career in sciences?
There are two answers to this question. First, I was fortunate to have several important mentors in my academic journey at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, including my philosophy professor, Dr. Brian Martine, my English professor, Dr. Jeff Nelson, and most of all my Latin professor, Dr. Richard Gerberding, who not only built a castle in northern Alabama (yes, a castle) but also introduced me to the study of ancient languages and guided me in my application to graduate school. Secondly, yes, my interest in ancient languages, at least at first, was very scientific, in the sense that I loved learning the rules of Latin and Greek grammar, memorizing hundreds of forms, and being able to comprehend how the meanings of words logically evolved over time in metaphorical ways. I remember learning in one of my first Latin classes that the word pecuniary, which in English means "relating to money", originally came from the Latin pecus, which means a flock of cattle. It comes to mean money because money is movable wealth and so are cattle!
Your approach to the Classics is a rather innovative, especially with regard to your focus on leadership theory. What can the ancient philosophers teach us about leadership in our complex, ever-evolving modern world?
Ancient thinkers and historical figures teach us so much about leadership, probably first and foremost that leadership is a vastly complex and fascinating phenomenon. For me it was the study of ethics, particularly in ancient epic and tragic poetry, that first drew me to think about leadership. Many of the ethical problems in these works are posed to figures in leadership roles, characters who must decide not only what is best for themselves but also their families, friends, and fellow-citizens. Things like wealth, honor, responsibility, and accountability all make ethics more interesting and these are also typical trappings of leadership. Anyone who hopes to lead today should be aware of these factors from the outset and develop at least some ideas for how to manage them.
Tell us about Kallion Leadership, the non-profit organization of which you are co-founder and Co-Executive Director, and aims to promote leadership development through the study of humanities.
Kallion treats leadership as the art of meeting the needs of other people in individual, group, and institutional settings, a definition we have paraphrased from the ancient Athenian author Xenophon in the Education of Cyrus (1.6.7). We believe that leadership exists in everyone and that delving deep into the humanities is the best way to activate this capacity in a comprehensive way. Specifically, we believe that studying the humanities gives us greater appreciation for what leadership is, it offers us numerous leadership behaviors to contemplate and emulate, and it can help us find more collaborative relationships with others, make better decisions, and improve how others see us and how we see ourselves. We have communities within Kallion that focus on research, leadership training for humanities educators, and leadership development communities outside higher education composed of professionals who want to engage in ongoing leadership development. Kallion also focuses on democratic leadership as a core part of our identity. This summer we are hosting our third annual International Camp for Democratic Leadership online.
Kallion’s name comes from the ancient Greek adjective kalos, which can mean "good", "fine", "noble", or "beautiful". Kallion is the comparative adjective, which "better". (Image on the left taken from Kallion.org [courtesy of Jenny Bick])
Tell us more about the International Camp for Democratic Leadership (ICDL); how is the study of classics applied in it?
The International Camp for Democratic Leadership is an annual event arising from our partnership with fellow educators in Greece, with the goal of strengthening global leadership one individual at a time. Our guiding assumption is that, in order for a democracy to work, its citizens must have the ability to see and respect the full humanity of each other. One of Kallion’s advisors, Congressman Jamie Raskin, describes democracy as a form of government that "we all take care of together". Kallion thus promotes forms of leadership that help others take care of their democracy. Our camp is made up of workshops that focus on leadership behaviors like introspection, building trust, and avoiding vanity. We also look at things like the role of drama (comedy and tragedy), rhetoric, and history in a healthy democracy. Our facilitators bring many different cultural backgrounds and educational experiences (including the ancient Greek world), to ensure that we are always able to think with the totality of what it means to be human.
You have published the monograph Loving Humanity, Learning, and Being Honored: The Foundations of Leadership in Xenophon's Education of Cyrus, while you are also one of the primary collaborators on Cyrus’ Paradise, the world’s first comprehensive, online, communal commentary for a Classical text: Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus (Cyropaedia). What is it that makes this text so important?
Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus, written around 365 BCE, is a highly fictionalized account of the life of a historical figure, Cyrus the Second (or "the Great"), who loomed very large, both intellectually and materially, over much of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Easter world. Cyrus was the founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire which lasted until the time of Alexander ("the Great") of Macedonia, a period of over 200 years. Xenophon’s quasi-biography of Cyrus was highly influential in Xenophon’s own time (it was seen as a response to Plato’s depiction of the Philosopher King in the Republic), in the time of Alexander (who styled himself as a second Cyrus), and in later Roman times: Julius Caesar was said to have been reading a copy of the work on the days leading up to his assassination and reflecting on the best way to die. The work has been treasured by many over the years, both during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment periods in Europe. It was read by several of the Framers of the US Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson had two copies (in ancient Greek!) in his personal library. In the 20th century it was recommended by the eminent researcher on business management theory, Peter Drucker, as the best book on the subject. I enjoy the Education of Cyrus for many reasons, including its exploration of what it truly means to be a lover of learning (philomathēs), a lover of honor (philotimos), and a lover of humanity (philanthrōpos). These questions are of course taken up by many later authors (and even some before), but Xenophon’s lively descriptions of Cyrus as a boy and then as the elder wise king at the end of a legendary career provide me with endless fascination and reflection.
Taking into account your STEM background, what are your thoughts on the disregard for the humanities often expressed (overtly or silently) by younger people with academic or work careers in the STEM or business sectors?
Another ancient work I like from Xenophon is a short dialogue called the Hieron. It’s about a fictionalized encounter between Hieron, a famous tyrant from the town of Syracuse in Sicily, and the poet Simonides of Ceos. The dialogue is sparked by the fact that Hieron has lived his life both as a private citizen and as a tyrant, and Simonides wants to know which of the two lives is the happier one. Well, I have never lived my life as a tyrant, but I have lived my life as a scientist and as a researcher in the humanities, and I can tell you that we all need both. Moreover, I really don’t like it when people say "I’m not a science person" or "I’m not a music person" because I feel like these kinds of identities sell us short. We should pursue –and we should have the opportunity and encouragement to pursue– all of these identities even if they won’t become our life’s profession. I’m terrible at the guitar, but it brings me great catharsis and clarity!
As far as the disregard for the humanities goes, I think we are paying for that shortsightedness individually and collectively. Speaking for myself, I can say that studying the humanities since my days in college, and even before that, has given me much more clarity about my own thoughts and feelings about the world and the tools to express that to other people. It has also enabled me to take that most important of all journeys, the journey into the minds of others, which Odysseus took so many times in his trip homeward to Ithaca. The leadership abilities that the humanities has helped me cultivate have enabled me to connect better with my students at Howard University (who come from all over the country and all over the world) and to do things like co-found Kallion, an organization made up of people from countless different backgrounds and leadership roles.
The Classics’ value in the contemporary society has come under increasing scrutiny, and recently the very concept of "Classics" is challenged. What is your take on this contentious issue?
This question deserves a lot more space than we have time for here. But I will give you some of my shorthand ways of answering it. I rarely use the term "classics" anymore to describe my chosen field of graduate study, which is the languages and literature of the ancient Greco-Roman world. I don’t think the word "classic" is very helpful or accurate in most conversations; "influential" may be better. To me, how you read and that you read are as at least as important as what you read. In Kallion we promote the practice of reading in diverse communities and "building your own canon" of books and other works of art that have shaped who you are and continue to guide you. It’s important to have works like that and it’s important to share those works with others, even in an evangelical spirit ("You must read this! It’s so awesome!"). But it’s also important to realize that these works may be less relevant to other people than they are to you and that you yourself might outgrow them over time. In my early twenties I used to live by the fictional works of Ayn Rand; now they mostly seem naive and narcissistic to me. We don’t need to figure out exactly what books a young person should read over the course of their brief college careers. We need to set them up to be citizens of the world–true cosmopolitans– who are committed to reading about the thoughts and experiences of human cultures for their entire lives.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Also watch: Dr. Sandridge explains the meaning of the word "philanthropy", as part of the series "The Greek Word of the Month", a digital initiative by the Embassy of Greece in the USA.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Dr Rebecca Flemming, first A. G. Leventis Chair in Ancient Greek Scientific and Technological Thought; Beyond Socrates - Greek philosophers you might not know; Professor Michael Scott: By studying the ancient Greeks we learn more about ourselves
Mania Meziti was born in 1965 in Athens. She studied nursing at the University of West Attica, literature at The Open University UK (BA, Honours Degree in Literature), and translation from English into Greek at European Center for the Translation of Literature and Human Science. She lives in Athens and works as a translator. She has translated books, poems and articles for literary journals, newspapers and online magazines. From 2007 until 2010 she collaborated with Ellinika Grammata editions as a professional reader of English-speaking literature.
She is the editor of the online anthology poets.gr (https://poets.gr/el/), as well as of the bilingual anthology I woke up in a country, Greek poetry at the present time, a publication of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. Her first poetry collection is Black she amongst (Kyma editions, 2018) and her second is Mouth (Koukida editions, 2021). Some of her poems have been translated in Swedish by Vasilis Papageorgiou (Med fingret vidrör du orden: en antologi samtida grekisk lyrik, 2019).
Your latest poetry collection titled Μοuth was recently published by Koukida. Tell us a few things about the book.
The book is the result of three years of work. It is divided into three parts. The first is related to the fluidity of existence, but also of poetry itself. The second refers to the upbringing and parents. The third has to do with the darkness of others. The cover was designed by my daughter, who is studying architecture.
Intertextuality seems to be a prominent feature in collection’s poems. Which are the main figures your poetry converses with? What role do they play?
As far as poetry is concerned (let me not expand on Sartre and Benjamin), I certainly have some preferences. Paul Celan and Takis Sinopoulos are among them. Maria Laina is the third. I am not able to tell whether or how the first two influenced me. Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to meet them in person. I come neither from Pyrgos nor from Paris. Laina, however, was my teacher both in translation and in poetry. She taught me as a physical presence, but also through her work, helping me to cultivate my taste and writing, without ever trying to impose anything on me.
Free verse, dense speech, almost no punctuation, characterize your poetic language. What purpose do these linguistic contrivances serve?
Density in speech, while risky, is in my opinion a virtue. In addition, I embrace free verse. As for punctuation, I reckon that the poetic speech of the modern era doesn’t need it. I consider that in this way more importance is given to words and their meanings. We have the younger generation of poets to thank for that. It left words bare, abolished the use of capitals that load texts with an unnecessary grandeur. As for the form, it kept the absolutely necessary connecting them harmoniously with the content. If we think of language as a living organism that interacts with time and society, we find that the contemporary poetic production definitely reflects this need. In addition, we have all been influenced by the social media and the way poetry is published on them. Short, dense, without punctuation – bare, yet not striped off meanings. More and more activist. More and more protesting.
«Είμαστε λίγοι για τόσα ποιήματα δεν μας ακούει κανείς» [We are so few for so many poems nobody hears us]. How does your poetry converse with the world it inhabits?
I am obviously interested in the fact - until recently, at least, before the pandemic and the war – that a huge number of poetry books were published. I was wondering why more and more people felt the need to express ourselves through poetry in the decade 2010-2020. I have the feeling that following the financial crisis of 2008, especially the younger ones (but not only) resorted to this literary genre in order to express the socio-political and individual changes. So, I wonder whether this cry, because it is indeed a cry, is heard or lost among so many others.
You are the editor of the online anthology poets.gr which hosts poems by contemporary Greek poets. Tell us a few things about this venture.
Poets.gr was created as a result of the unemployment I experienced during the financial crisis. Ellinika Grammata, the publishing house with which I collaborated as a professional reader for some years, closed down. Publishers did not have the money to buy copyrights, thus only a few books were translated. In addition, there was more offer than demand for translators. That’s how I came up with poets. Some winter nights while I was reading poems by contemporary Greek poets, I realized that what is being written at the moment concerns me. That it would be good for these poems to be read. That poetry worth mentioning and attention is being written. Quite often extroverted and criticizing, though not philologically correct. In essence, poets was created out of solidarity for all those who had something to say and no one listened to them.
The site is already six years old. It is an anthology in progress, which is enriched every week with new poets and poems, a reference point for the world of contemporary Greek poetry. It includes about 250 poets, most of them very young, and about 2500 poems, of which a small percentage have been translated into English. It continues to be enriched thanks to personal and voluntary work. Two years ago, it was sponsored to be technically upgraded by The J. F. Costopoulos Foundation.
How would you comment on the current poetic landscape? Do contemporary Greek poets have the potential to move beyond national borders?
Let’s be honest. Greek may be an important language, but it is quite rare. English remains the lingua franca. It has dominated poetry as well thanks to its short, polysemic words. Let’s consider the elegance of Emily Dickinson’s poems. In addition to her undisputed talent, her language has been more than helpful; those little words full of meaning that she puts side by side to create masterpieces. Apart from the fact that the world literary canon is almost 100% English-speaking, in order for our poetry to move beyond national borders, it needs a certain plan as well as state support. Or else,private initiatives by literary agents with a good knowledge of the foreign market. It’s not enough poets to be translated on their own initiative, trying to find a way on their own.
How does Greek poetry relate to world literature nowadays? How does the local/national interweave with the global?
I am not sure it does. Maybe we wish it did, but it doesn’t. We are so preoccupied with our own domestic issues. A small, poor nation with a difficult language, outstanding poets from Homer up to the present; yet almost nobody is interested in us, and so neither are we. We our caught up in ourselves, at times in conflict. The way we have learned, that is.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
George Petrides, who lives and works in New York City and Athens, Greece, creates abstracted figurative sculpture. Born and partially raised in Greece, he has always been inspired by ancient Greek sculpture but also by the later works that were influenced by it from classics such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Rodin to modernist and contemporary sculptors such as Charles Ray and Huma Bhabha.
He is concerned with the human experience in the form of the body and the head, exploring the beauty and the imperfection of people and of life.
Growing up in a family of artists and business people, he made and studied art through
college, then took a detour to Wall Street, continuing to study and make art part-time. For over 20 years, off and on, he took drawing, painting and sculpture classes at the New York Studio School, at the Art Students League, and at the prestigious Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. Since 2017 he has dedicated himself to making art full time. He has had solo exhibitions in Dubai, Monaco and Mykonos, and group exhibitions in Athens, London and New York.
Recently, Petridis’s work was showcased at a two-artist show Figure and Form, hosted by the Consulate General of Greece in New York, where his figurative sculptures were paired with the abstract Pixel Field paintings of Greek-born American artist Nassos Daphnis (1914-2010).
The artist’s latest work is a series inspired by the centennial of the Destruction of Smyrna in 1922 and last year’s bicentennial of the Greek Revolution: the Hellenic Heads are Petrides’s "personal exploration into his Greek background", and they encapsulate the influences that have shaped him, drawing from six important periods in Greek history: the Classical Period (510–323 BC), the Byzantine era (330–1453 AD), the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829), the Destruction of Smyrna (1922), the Nazi occupation and Greek Civil War (1941–1949) and the Present.
The eight works will be presented in a traveling exhibition, which is going to be hosted at the Embassy of Greece in the U.S.; it will be on view in the Embassy’s exhibition space on weekdays from May 9 to June 10, 2022 (11:00am to 3:00pm, closed on May 16,17). With the aid of the Public Diplomacy Office at the Embassy, Greek News Agenda interviewed* George Petrides ahead of the upcoming opening; the artists spoke about his influences, his working process and the place that his Greek heritage has shaped his artistic identity.
George Petrides with some of his Hellenic Heads; photo ©Simatos/Cadena
We understand the Embassy of Greece to the USA, in Washington DC, will host your Hellenic Heads series. Tell us about this work.
I'm honored to present my sculptures at the Embassy of Greece to the USA. As a Greek-American, to show at a prestigious venue that is important to both Greek and American life means a lot to me. I’m grateful to Ambassador Papadopoulou for inviting me and to Ms. Moutroupalas, Cultural Attaché, who worked with me to bring the exhibition to fruition. When I presented my work to them and to Mr Papadopoulos, Head of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy, I saw that they understood my work on many levels – historical, artistic, emotional. I am eager to bring the Hellenic Heads from my New York studio, and a few flown in from Athens, to Washington DC, for the exhibition running from May 9th to June 10, 2022.
The Hellenic Heads are a personal exploration of my Greek roots, through over-lifesize head sculptures that have been inspired by six important periods in Greek history spanning 2,500 years. This series is a vehicle for, and the result of, my search for the Greek influences that have shaped me and the people closest to me. I chose six periods in Greek history that could be deemed to have ongoing influence on contemporary Greeks: the Classical Period, the Byzantine Period, the Greek War of Independence, the Destruction of Smyrna (of which the centennial is this year), the Nazi occupation and Greek Civil War, and finally, the Present. I researched each period, considering artifacts, family stories, and historical photographs. I looked at sculptural precedents for inspiration in the major museums of the world, including Athens, New York, Paris and Rome. With these foundations, I created the sculptures which I hope you will see at the Embassy or at other venues to which the exhibition will travel, such as The Muses in Southampton, NY from June 16 to September 5, 2022.
The artist in his studio (Heroines of 1821 from Hellenic Heads); photo ©Simatos/Cadena
What prompted you to make this body of work?
As a Greek-American –born in Athens and having spent more than half my life in New York City– I have always been engaged with, and sometimes overwhelmed by, my Greek roots. Starting from age 5 or 6, I was exposed to Greek antiquities by my aunt who was a tour guide to the Acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Later, at Harvard College, I studied liberal arts, including Classical Greek literature, philosophy and history, as well as modern Greek literature, taught there by Professor Savvides, the translator of Cavafy and Seferis. Later still, I made four visits to Mount Athos, where I was steeped not just in the Orthodox faith but also in Byzantine art; I recall being dumbfounded seeing icons and relics more than a thousand years old.
With those foundations, I created over-lifesize portraits, the largest of which is 85 centimeters or almost 3 feet high. However, my portraits are not historical copies; they are personal interpretations. When I was sculpting Thalia, inspired by the Classical Greek Period, I looked not just to the piece of the same name in the Vatican Museums, but also to photos of my mother as a young woman in post-war Greece. When I was sculpting Archon, referring to the Byzantine Period, I looked not just to the colossal heads of Constantine the Great at the Capitoline Museums in Rome and The Met in New York, but also to photographs of my father as a young sea captain, working for Goulandris shipping interests, embodying leadership and clear vision ahead. For Heroines of 1821, I wanted to convey the strength, defiance and resilience of three female leaders in the War of Independence (Manto, Laskarina and the overlooked Domna Visvizi of Thrace), and found a modern Greek woman to sit for the piece, a woman with similar personality traits: My fiancé!
The artist in his studio (Thalia from Hellenic Heads); photo ©Simatos/Cadena
Your art is focused exclusively on the human body, particularly the head. Why?
I find my fellow human beings to be the most fascinating, difficult, and rewarding subject. Relationships are important to me in every aspect of my life, which is not to imply that I always succeed at them. I often experience an inability to understand or to connect, which probably drives my interest in figurative sculpting. As to the head specifically: It is the most human part of the human, the most expressive and the most difficult to convey and the most interesting when the conveyance succeeds.
I’m thinking of the title of the first book that came out on my work: The Beauty of Imperfection. I think that summarizes my views of our fellow human beings and of life generally: That there is beauty not in spite of but because of imperfections. Many of my pieces show imperfections, and I hope that you will perceive them as beautiful.
Some of your Hellenic Heads have been described as "dark". Are they? Why?
Some, fortunately not all, are "dark" because they reflect the periods I studied. Studying the Destruction of Smyrna, including the experiences of my grandmother who survived it and the published diaries of her brother who fought in the war that preceded it, resulted in a sculpture conveying sadness of losing their homeland, but also dignity in accepting their fate and rebuilding their lives in a new country, Greece. To study Greece in the 1940s was to learn about my father’s time in an internment camp, to learn about the vibrant Sephardic Jewish community of Thessaloniki whose members were sent to Treblinka. Many of us are fortunate to have never directly had such experiences in our lives, but similar phenomena exist today, like in the daily lives of Ukrainians these past few months.
That said, the Hellenic Heads are presented as a unity, so these "dark" pieces are balanced by others that are "light": The elegance and thoughtfulness of a classically inspired head, the strength and leadership of a Heroine of 1821, a young girl representing the Present, whose optimism reflects her future but also the optimism a nation and people might feel.
You seem to draw from many artistic influences. For example, we see echoes of Auguste Rodin in your work. Please discuss.
In the catalog essay, critic and curator Katy Diamond Hamer asks: "How does one look towards the past with a mirror, and still see something new reflected back? This is something that many artists face in their respective practices as it’s nearly impossible to not be informed of, or inspired by art history."
I fully agree. I do not want to sculpt figures without engaging with the figurative sculpture that came before, starting with Mesopotamian and Egyptian sculpture and traveling over 8,000 years to contemporary figurative work. I believe many of these prior investigations into the human subject are relevant. Like Alberto Giacometti, I do not believe that there is "progress" in art, that contemporary art is somehow better than older art. I see many ancient, Renaissance, neoclassical, 19th century heads that are more compelling than what I see in the commercial galleries today.
Yes, Rodin is an important influence. I recall the awe I felt when I first saw his Gates of Hell, at Stanford University in 1992. To me, Rodin is the culmination of the Greco-Roman tradition of figurative sculpture. What started with the Archaic Kouroi and developed through the Classical and Hellenistic periods, was taken up after 1500 years in the Renaissance, expressed in new ways by Donatello and Michelangelo and later by neoclassical sculptors before Rodin came onto the scene in the late nineteenth century. After Rodin, there was a withering interest in the figurative, and the non-figurative "New Sculpture" emerged in the 1950s alongside Abstract Expressionism in painting. In recent decades there has been an enthusiastic return to figurative painting and sculpture, a prominent example being Charlie Ray, who makes extensive references to ancient Greek sculpture.
The artist with his tools; photo ©Simatos/Cadena
All of your Hellenic Heads are larger than lifesize. Some are nearly a meter tall. Why?
Jeff Koons has said that scale changes the way the viewer perceives the work, even if it is the exact same work, enlarged. I have found this to be true as I often do similar works in different sizes, and I can see how viewers react to each.
Acclaimed artist George Rorris, who is famous for representations of the human form, wrote that your sculpture reflects the "primitive sensuality" of your soul, "indomitable and unadulterated". Would you say that true art originates in a primordial instinct, even though we often associate art with refinement and sophistication?
I have great respect for George Rorris, both as an artist–one of the most important working today not just in Greece but globally–and as a human being. I am honored that he wrote the essay that appeared in the book George Petrides: Recent Work 2019-2021 from which you quote.
As to his specific comments: I think he is correct, and expressed it more poetically than I could have. There are many kinds of art, ranging from the cold, conceptual kind to the emotionally-driven "primitive" and "unadulterated", to use his words. I am happy to be closer to the latter end of that spectrum, for two reasons: First, it is who I am, and I believe in the saying, "Be yourself - everyone else is already taken". Second, I think that the qualities that Rorris refers to have real power. I hope you feel that power when you see the Hellenic Heads.
Is there good art that is refined and sophisticated? Of course! There are as many different kinds of art as there are artists, and viewers must judge for themselves what speaks to them.
Would you tell us a few words about your initiation into the world of art?
I grew up in a family that was half artists and half business people. Even as a child, it was clear to me that the life of the artist was not an easy one. After a liberal arts degree from Harvard College in 1985, I went to Wall Street. Then in 1996, the Muse beckoned and I started taking art classes in the evenings and on weekends; I discovered the New York Studio School, which has been my primary educational home for the last 20 years, with detours to the Art Students League in New York and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, where some important Greek artists studied: Apartis, Chryssa, Laskaridou, Sidiropoulos.
I had been flirting with making the switch to full-time working artist for many years, but didn't have the courage. Then in 2017, I experienced multiple deaths of friends and family within a two-week period, forcing me to evaluate what I wanted to do with my remaining years on this planet, and I committed fully to making art! In September 2018, a well-known Greek collector acquired a work of mine, and I thought, "OK, now I am a professional artist", followed shortly by the thought, "I had better get into the studio daily and make more, and better, work!"
Photo from the show at the Consulate of Greece in New York (© Guillaume Ziccarelli)
Would you tell us a few things about your recent show at the Consulate of Greece in New York?
I am grateful to Consul General Konstantin Koutras, who invited me and the estate of Nassos Daphnis to exhibit at the Consulate from December 2021 to February 2022. To show at a prestigious venue in New York, the city to which both Daphnis and I came at a young age and chose to live and work, was an honor. Dr. Koutras, Cultural Attaché Evelyn Kanellea and their colleagues supported the exhibition strongly, and we had many visitors, ranging from Greek and Greek-American VIPs to members of the New York art world, including critics and curators from major museums.
Daphnis was an important artist, and his works can be found in the collections of many prominent museums like The Met, MoMA, Guggenheim, and Whitney in New York and the B&E Goulandris in Athens. Born in Krokees, near Sparta, in 1914, he came to New York around the age of 17. Like me, he had another career which supported him and his growing family, and like me, he did not have a conventional art education. I found the pairing fascinating because the two artists came from similar backgrounds to the same city, but made art that was at polar opposites, figurative sculpture and abstract painting. It’s a pairing worth ruminating on, including what does it mean to be a Greek-American artist?
Paul Laster, Curator, commented: "Taking a traditional approach to figurative sculpture, Petrides mines the past to create something new and when making his Pixel Fields/Aegean Series paintings, Daphnis tapped into new technology to update modernist abstraction. Petrides’ sculpted figures are perceptively born from the primordial mud of ancient cultures and modified in the artist’s hands, whereas Daphnis cleverly combined computer-generated graphics from an Atari ST with his own particular painting process".
The artist in his studio (Life During Wartime from Hellenic Heads); photo ©Simatos/Cadena
What is your working process?
My process is of my own invention, combining the ancient with the cutting-edge. Importantly, some of it is done in New York and some in the broad Athens area, including Piraeus and Boeotia.
I often start modeling by hand in natural clay in New York, looking at a live model or historical photographs. Next, the clay piece, still wet, is scanned in 3-D, becoming a digital file of millions of data points. This data is then manipulated in digital sculpting software, making alterations and enlarging it to up to three times lifesize. Then it might be sent electronically to Greece where it is 3D printed in plastic or CNC-milled in foam. I am happy to say that both these technologies are available in Greece. I work with one facility in Moschato and another in Ritsona, near Ancient Thebes.
When I have the enlarged sculpture back in the studio in Athens or in New York, I start on the piece anew, cutting with power tools, adding volume using materials commonly found on construction sites. Often the final form is cast in bronze, using the same lost-wax process that was used by the ancient Greeks 2,500 years ago. All of my castings to date have been done in Greece. Various patinas are applied to the final form in an expressionistic manner. From beginning to end, a piece can take a year and a half to make, from the first handful of clay to the piece ready for its exhibition.
You mention "Sculptural Precedents" in your working process. Explain.
I often draw inspiration from historic pieces, ranging from the Kouroi to Rodin, not to make a copy, but to see how an accomplished sculptor dealt with similar issues. Sometimes this helps me find my “way in” with my sculpture, although the end result may bear little similarity. For example, when I was starting on my piece related to the Destruction of Smyrna, The Catastrophe, I was thinking about my grandmother and how she might have looked and felt in September 1922 when the city was burned and she lost her whole way of life. Call it serendipity; on my drive back from Monaco, where I had a solo exhibition, to Athens, I stopped in Florence for a few nights. There, at the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, I saw two works that left me in awe: Donatello’s Habbakuk (1423-26) and Michelangelo’s Deposition (1547-1555). When you look at The Catastrophe, you may pick up on subtle references to both masterpieces.
You have talked about your commitment to ancient Greek sculpture and to non-Greek sculptors, but what about modern Greek sculptors?
The two that excite me most are Yannoulis Chalepas and Yannis Pappas. Both are well represented at the National Glyptotheque in Goudi, which has to be one of the least visited museums in all of Europe. Whenever I visit I am usually the only person there. The Chalepas holdings by the Glyptotheque and by the Onassis Foundation are simply astounding. The other day when I was stuck on a part of Heroines of 1821, I picked up a Chalepas catalog (from the excellent Tellogleio exhibition) to see how he had dealt with a similar issue. It worked!
Yannis Pappas’ home and studio, an annex of the Benaki Museum in the Zografou area, are incredible, with a large cache of Pappas works and an air as if the sculptor were just around the corner and about to return and pick up his tools. Inspiring!
Frances Reclining, 2019 (From the show at the Consulate of Greece in New York; photo © Guillaume Ziccarelli)
After all those years living outside of Greece–not just as an artist–would you say that your "Greekness" still defines your artistic expression in the same way it did in the beginning?
Yes, I believe so. Although I have lived most of my life in the New York area, my contact with Greece –the language, the culture, the country–has been continuous. Growing up in New York, my parents behaved as if they were on their way back to Greece, and indeed, upon my father’s retirement, that is what they did. As for me, I spent five of my teenage years in Athens, and like many Greek-Americans, visited every summer. So, I have always felt connected to my "Greekness", generally as well as artistically.
What are your plans for the Hellenic Heads?
I am planning on showing the sculptures, including their supporting material (a 20-minute video, large posters giving more information on each historical period, a catalog), in venues around the world as an example of cultural diplomacy. After the premiere at the Embassy, the Hellenic Heads will travel to The Muses in Southampton, NY, exhibiting from June 16 to September 5, 2022.
Hellenic Heads: Heroines of 1821, Thalia; photo ©Simatos/Cadena
You mentioned "cultural diplomacy". What did you mean by that?
This is something I learned about from Ms. Eleftheria Gkoufa (The Benaki Museum), with whom I have worked in recent years. She acted as Cultural Manager for both the exhibition at the Consulate in New York and the one at the Embassy in Washington. She said "A traveling exhibition like this creates opportunities for intercultural dialogue. Although a personal exploration, Hellenic Heads is meant to convey some of the history of Greece as well as something of contemporary Greek identity. It seems these pieces have something to say to viewers, whether they are Greeks reflecting on how the Destruction of Smyrna affected their families or non-Greeks who only know the country as a vacation spot.
Some of the pieces are relevant outside of a nominally Greek context. For example, the Destruction of Smyrna in 1922 affected tens of thousands of Armenians. The 1940s saw the destruction of the Sephardic Jewish community, whose ancestors lived in Greece for millennia; The Acts state that when Apostle Paul visited Thessaloniki around 49 AD, there was already a synagogue established there."
What else do you have planned for 2022?
In 2021, I visited Dubai for the first time and presented my work there in a solo exhibition. I fell in love with the people, both friendly Emirati and expat professionals. So, I will have a second solo exhibition there in November 2022, when I will present pieces that were created exclusively for the Emirates.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi (Intro image: George Petrides with some of his Hellenic Heads; photo ©Simatos/Cadena)
Read also via Greek News Agenda: George Rorris: "A painting is the sincere revelation of one’s soul"; Yannis Pappas, the sculptor of Greece’s historical figures; A Tribute to Greek sculptor Yannoulis Chalepas on the occasion of World Mental Health Day; Kostis Georgiou: "Art’s purpose is to provide a zone of unlimited paths"; Painter Dimitris Tzamouranis: "Art’s ultimate objective is the pursuit of beauty"
Νominated for the European Prize for Literature 2022, General Symptoms by Takis Kampylis is a novella about the dystopia we are faced with due to the pandemic – although the virus is not specifically named – and as a result of the economic crisis, which was at the same time humanitarian, aesthetic, cultural and a crisis of identity. Against such adverse conditions, the writer meaningfully aims to talk about people who seek redemption at a time that there are no easy ways out and all escape routes seem closed.
Five characters, one story: the unknown Greek volunteer at the vaccine experiments, the angry son of the bankrupt merchant, the bedridden mother, the clumsy coffee maker and the unemployed, ambitious journalist. Their footsteps seem ordinary, everyday - like the general symptoms of a virus, which we evolved with as we emerged together from caves to savannahs, fields and cities. All five heroes, in the midst of the pandemic, get caught up in a "good guy" civil war that breaks out in a neighborhood in Athens, with all the aftermath: the amortization of people, motivation, and other assets. All five become protagonists of the same murder. A novel of monologues, where everything - even crime and self-sacrifice - is done in the most conventional way: without the will of the perpetrator or with the wrong victim...
Takis Kampylis was born in Nafplion. He started his career as a journalist at "Nea" in 1986 as a reporter and later as editor-in-chief. In 2006 he worked as managing editor at "Eleftheros Typos", and then at "Kathimerini" from 2007 to 2010 as a contributor and columnist. From 2010 to 2014, he was general manager of the municipal radio station of the Municipality of Athens, "Athens 9.84". He has published two novels: Giants and beans (Kastaniotis, 2019) and General Symptoms (Kastaniotis, 2021).
The European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL) aims to put the spotlight on the creativity and diverse wealth of Europe’s contemporary literature in the field of fiction, to promote the circulation of literature within Europe and to encourage greater interest in non-national literary works. The Prize competition is open to 41 countries currently involved in the Creative Europe programme. Each year, national organisations in a third of the participating countries nominate potential winning novels, making it possible for all countries and language areas to be represented over a three-year cycle. Despite selecting one overall winner, all nominated authors will be continuously promoted on a European stage, aiming to reach a wider and international audience, as well as connect with readers beyond their national and linguistic borders.
Αlthough not often discussed in the English-speaking world, Tasos Leivaditis is one of the greats amongst the postwar generation of Greek writers.
He was born in Athens in 1922. In 1940 he enrolled in the Law School of the University of Athens, but at the onset of the German occupation of Greece, in 1941, he abandoned his studies and joined the Resistance and the National Liberation Front’s youth organization EPON. After the liberation, in 1944, he continued to be politically active in the Left, which led to his exile from 1945 to 1951. He first appeared to the Greek public in 1946, through the columns of the magazine Elefthera Grammata. In 1947 he coordinated the release of the literary magazine Themelio. The years 1948-1952 he was exiled in Moudros, Saint Stratis, Makronisos along with all leftist artists and thinkers, Yannis Ritsos, Aris Alexandrou, Manos Katrakis, and many others. In 1952 he published his first book of poetry, Battle at the Edge of the Night, which consists of one long account of the anguish experienced by a soldier plunged in the depths of a night battle.
His literary output is usually divided into three periods. In his first period (1952–1956), Leivaditis develops a ‘poetry of the battlefield’ informed by his commitment to the Leftist struggle during WWII and after. In the tradition of social realism, he evokes the horrors of war but also retains an optimism regarding the future. As we move towards the end of this period his poetic lens moves beyond this specific socio-economic and political reality and fictional elements are introduced as well with a simultaneous concealment of the time and place where his long narrative poems take place, allowing for his work to become somewhat more universal.
Plans we abandoned, decisions we feared to take
What others expected, we gave them.
We should have known there was danger in that.
As well as in what those others demanded
Though we knew they were petty, we were as well.
People we met just one night, but their stares
forever defined our lives.
Words we thought of saying, but when the moment came
Surrendered to fearful silence time upon time.
They were found at the moment of climbing the stairs,
Or in a dark-laden room, as we reached for the light.
Alone in a moon-painted room or surrounded by crowds and the light.
Where can you go then? Where can you hide? What did you do
with your unforgotten life?
[Translated by Björn Thegeby]
In his second period (1957–66), after the defeat of the Left in the civil war, existentialist concerns begin to surface and his work takes on a bleaker, more introspective tone. The poet is disenchanted, thus moving from the ‘ideal’ other/comrade to the actual one (with his compromises, his minor or major self-interests, his betrayals), as well as from the social mission from the social mission (of communism/ of revolution and poetry) to the quest of a personal identity. His book Women with Equine Eyes, 1958, was a landmark in his literary career and his turn into the introverted and existential poetry of his middle life.
The third period is considered a ‘period of introversion’ (1972-1988), during which he moves from realism, filtrated at this point through the lens of the previous existential period, to the reconstruction of reality through the use of his own, personal symbols, and from autobiography to the formulation of a poetic persona and reality, where times and places are interweaved in order to create a highly evocative atmosphere.
In the words of poet Vagia Kalfa, “throughout this course, Leivaditis moves from the idea that the poet should be socially and politically active, and from a poetry as a personal and historical document/testimony to the idea that poetry constitutes a reflection on experience, the meaning of existence and the content of personal freedom, the limits of memory and language (second period) and then to the idea that poetry is a personal transcendence/ reconstruction of reality through dreams, memory, fantasy and the unobstructed diffusion of the one to the other against the imperatives of common sense (third period)”.
Then he spoke about some key.
‘How incomprehensible it is to live,’ he said.
In an adjoining room a beautiful woman was engrossed in the
Finally he talked about a seashore, an enigma and a sick
‘And then what happened?’ I asked.
I didn’t notice that thirty years had already gone by.
[Translated by N.N. Trakakis]
The Blind Man with the Lamp, originally published in Greek in 1983, is the first English translation of a complete collection of poetry by Leivaditis. A pioneering book of prose-poems, Leivaditis here gives powerful voice to a post-war generation divested of ideologies and illusions, imbued with the pain of loss and mourning. As Andy Jackson eloquently put it in his review, although “these poems read as merciless confrontations with the real”, “they are essentially elegies for existence”. From the onset, then, one is expecting a collection of poems about the never-ending search for whatever it is that makes us human, a poignant theme as much as it is diachronic.
Leivaditis’ lyrics were set to music by Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Loizos. In 1986 he published his book Violets for a Season which is considered his swan song. He died in Athens on October 30, 1988. After his death, his handwritten anecdotal poems were published under the title Autumn Manuscripts.
“Athens: Two Hundred Years, Two Hundred Buildings,” is a photo album book that aims to be visual record of Athens’ evolution from the first years of Greek independence to today. The 330-page book features 200 selected buildings of Athens, from 1821 to 2021, as well as eight essays on architecture in Athens by architects and historians of art and architecture – Yannis A. Aesopos, Manos Biris, Marilena Z. Cassimatis, Maria Daniil, Helen Fessas-Emmanouil, Stylianos Giamarelos, Francois Loyer and Kostas Tsiambaos. Architect, publisher of e-magazine grad review and lecturer in Interior Architecture at the University of West Attica, Manolis Anastasakis edited the book and selected the 200 buildings presented there. He spoke to Rethinking Greece* on the criteria for selecting the 200 buildings, the most interesting period of Athens’ architecture, whether the Athenian 'polykatoikia' [apartment building] can be redeemed, Athens' place on the map of world architecture after the previous two decades of extroversion, and finally the challenges and opportunities for its architectural development in the years to come.
What were the criteria for selecting the buildings? Can you tell us about two or three that you personally single out?
The book was published on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Revolution of 1821, and its aim was to highlight the architectural variety of the capital of the Modern Greek state. The main criteria in the selection of buildings were the unique architectural value of their façade and their continuing presence in the city to this day. Obviously, we could not include everything, and some very recognizable and remarkable buildings had to be omitted on account of the "anniversary" limit that was set, namely 200 buildings. Thus, if a building is not included in the selection, it does not mean it is not important. Moreover, secondary criteria were also applied, so that, for example, selected buildings equally represent different time periods, as well as all the important architectural currents and personalities with a strong presence in Athens throughout the last two centuries. Other selection criteria related to a balanced representation of their various uses (i.e., public buildings and mansions, private houses, churches etc.), locations (within the Attica basin, with few exceptions) and finally their historical value, in addition to their architectural quality.
The selection in the book is divided into five time periods, and for the buildings I single out I will chose one from each era. For the period of the formation of Athenian classicism (1830-1867), the Central Building of the University of Athens, designed by Danish architect Christian Hansen, is an example of beautiful proportions in a mild expression of classicism. For the period of late classicism (1868-1922), the Municipal Theater of Piraeus,designed by the architect Ioannis Lazarimos, pleasantly surprises with the expressive rhythm of its façade. The interwar period (1923-1945) is perfectly reflected in architect Vassilios Douras’ Tsimboukis apartment building, with the austerity and the intense horizontality of its openings. The first post-war period (1946-1979) is best expressed in the Lanaras weekend house by architect Nicos Valsamakis, as it harmonizes functionality with aesthetics and advanced technology. Finally, for the last period (1980-2021) I chose the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, because it succeeded in utilizing the gentle upward slope of the ground to create a public park space for everyone.
As you mentioned, the presentation of the 200 buildings has been divided into five chronological periods. Which do you think was the most interesting period in terms of architectural creation in Athens?
The duration of each period in our book spans the equivalent of one to one-and-a-half generations, so that the changes in the landscape of architecture may be evident. Each period showcases excellent works. However, the one that stands out for me is the first period, the formation of Athenian Neoclassicism (1830-1867), when the first major public buildings, such as the Old Palaace [now the Greek Parliament], the University of Athens and the Academy – among many others – were erected. These buildings, designed by important and world-renowned architects served as archetypes for the next generation of significant public buildings of the city, as well as for the private homes of the middle and working classes. These architects, who came to work in Athens in the 19th century, were invited to design buildings in the European Neoclassical style in the heart, however, of ancient Greek culture. The way these prominent architects re-interpreted classical models in a modern setting led to the emergence of an Athenian strand of Neoclassicism that was of high architectural quality.
Is Athens an architecturally misunderstood city? Could it claim a place on the map of world architecture?
Athens is certainly misunderstood by its inhabitants, although its image as that of an "ugly" city appears to be on the decline, especially among younger Athenians. As far as architectural tourism is concerned, the city boasts some remarkable buildings of 19th century Neoclassicism, a leading example being the Athenian trilogy that comprises the University of Athens, the Academy and the National Library. There are also some exquisite examples of 20th century modern architecture, like the Athens Hilton, the main building of the former Ellinikon International Airport, and the American Embassy – designed by none other than the Walter Gropius. The 21st century began with great architectural claims for the city, and I am referring here in particular to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, and the Agemar Angelicoussis Group Headquarters in Kallithea. In terms of urban landscape, apartment buildings are the hallmark of Athens, and in this respect the city has a very strong urban identity, created after WWII. I have to mention that foreign architects visiting Athens are impressed by the homogeneity of its urban environment and the fact that it is a friendly and extroverted city.
The infamous ugly Athenian polykatoikia [apartment building] is being ‘rehabilitated’ in public opinion, while at the same time we are witnessing a renewed interest in the modernist buildings of the city. What is the verdict, are Athenian apartment buildings beautiful or ugly?
The question of whether a structure is beautiful or ugly could indeed be asked of individual buildings. When it comes to an urban landscape however, the question is infinitely more complex. Athens underwent a rapid development in the post-war period, so a degree of standardization in construction was to be expected. We must remember that this rapid urbanization took place within an environment of limited available capital and small properties. This was the system of antiparochi, the hallmark of post-war urban development. When examining apartment buildings individually, the majority of them do not claim laurels of architectural quality. But if we consider them as a set of structures that largely make up the urban environment, then they become a characteristic feature of a city. There are, of course, fine and distinctly unique architectural examples of apartment buildings, both from the interwar period (such as the "Blue" apartment building, the Michaelides apartment building, etc.) and the post-war period (such as the apartment building at 118 Emm. Benaki steet and the apartment building in Polydroso).
The 1960s and 1990s were marked by an economic boom that led to the urbanization of the Athenian landscape. What are the current challenges for the architectural development of Athens?
The big challenge for Athens now lies in the successful accomplishment of the plans for the development of the "Ellinikon" and the so-called "Athenian Riviera. If these two enormous challenges are successfully realized, they can make the city much more attractive to its residents and visitors. At the same time, it is imperative that the city invests in the development of green areas (it is among the capitals with the lowest percentage of green space in Europe), in the upgrading of public spaces (squares, sidewalks, quality of urban equipment), in the coastline and in its connection with the sea, as well as in targeted small "urban acupuncture" interventions in its neighborhoods.
Is there such a thing as “Modern Greek architecture”?
Two of the newer public buidlings of Athens: Onassis Stegi | photo: Arieta Attali, Benaki Musem at Pireos | photo: Vassilis Makris
• See also from Greek News Agenda: Open House Athens 2022: ReOPEN Athens
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
**Translation: Ioulia Livaditi, editing: Madga Hatzopoulou