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35 artists for Democracy

19 July 2009 / 23:07:46  GRReporter
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Maria Spasova

It’s July and the year is 1974. Archbishop Makarios is cast out from the Cyprus presidency following a coup, supported by the military junta in Athens. As a result, Turkey invades Northern Cyprus and the island’s tragedy leads to the fall of the Greek colonels’ regime. It’s replaced by a political government, lead by Konstantinos Karamanlis. In November of the same year, Greece is having general elections where New Democracy – the party founded by Karamanlis – wins 220 out of the 300 seats in the Greek parliament. A month later in December, 70 per cent of the Greeks vote against the monarchy at a referendum, and support a president’s republic – which is what Greece is until today.

The dramatic events of 35 years ago will be commemorated by the “Konstantinos Karamanlis” foundation, with the “35 Artists for Democracy” art exhibit which will be officially unveiled this Thursday – 23 of July by the prime minister – Kostas Karamanlis. 35 of the most notable names in Greek art will get together, not just to remind us all a moment of the contemporary Greek history, but to make a statement. They want to declare that Democracy is not just a part of Philosophy, History and Politics textbooks – it means freedom. Freedom to create – art, science, money, business, media, society, justice. Using their talent, the 35 artists demonstrate what one can do when one is free.

“For me, Time Square is like a Byzantine icon. There are many commonalities between the neon advertisements on the skyscrapers and the flat letters on the billboards and images of the saints in front of the golden skies on the Byzantine icons.” This is what Chryssa – one of the most renowned representatives of the American avant-garde in the second half of the XX century (author of the calligraphy portrayed in the center) - had to say. She was born in Athens in 1933 and graduated from the California Academy of Fine Arts. Ever since 1957 she lives and works in New York. Her work is exhibited in The Guggenheim, Kuros, The Museum for Modern Art MoMa in New York, Museums for modern art in Montreal, Paris, galleries in Germany, Greece and the USA. She’s also participating in biennales in Venice and Sao Paulo. Leo Castelli describes her Broadway workshop as one of the most stunning in the world. In 1992, Chryssa decides to go back to her hometown – Athens and after long days and nights of wandering around the city streets, she chooses the abandoned “Oasis” cinema in the anciently bourgeois area of Neos Kosmos. In her new working heaven, she keeps making art with no outside influence and without borrowing from past styles. Asked whether she comes from a wealthy parentage, Chryssa responds: “Yes, my family is rich indeed, but not in cash. My sister studied medicine and had friendly relations with Nikos Kazantzakis.”

“For me, the myth contains more realism than does reality, because its charged with the  burden of time and has passed the test of time as well”. These are the feelings of another representative of the 35 – Natalia Mela, also known among friends as Nata. Born in 1923 in the aristocratic Athenian suburb of Kifissia, the sculptor is one of the epitomes in Greek fine art with her elegant, ironic, metaphorical, enigmatic works. Asked to name her favorite sculptors, Natalia Mela usually responds: “Pythagoras and Archimedes.” It does actually show in her art, especially when one observes her works from marble, metal or clay. One does notice the mathematical accuracy and surgical precision involved in the creation of her art, where there is no single detail that can be removed from the sculpture without collapsing it to the ground. Her studio on the central avenue “Vassilisis Sofias” is a place of interest for the Greek cultural elite for decades, where new trends are born, influence is being shaped, ideas are shared and new partnerships in art are launched. Natalia Mela is a member of one of the most prominent Greek families, with her grandfather being one of the founders of the National Bank of Greece, while her other grandfather is Pavlos Melas, a hero in the liberation war of Greek Macedoina with the Turks. Despite her bourgeois descent, Nata was a was a member of the Greek Communist Party for a short period of time. “When you are young, you are like a volcano, and you do erupt eventually. And who doesn’t want to change the world”… she remembers her period in the communist party.

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