Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Cultural barbarians

When you look at the history of the Greeks you can hardly call them cultural barbarians. The old Greek culture was full of monumental buildings and great philosophers. They invented democracy and a lot of Greek wise men are recalled nearly every day. In many parts of the world you will find Greek temples. Nearly all archeological museums in the world have a Greek item such as an urn or an old statuette.

Lesvos has a poor inheritance. No big temples or palaces. Just some castles. A few centuries before Christ was the Golden Century of the island. Lesvos was then a mighty state on land and at sea. It built towns across the sea where it is now Turkey. This region used to be called the Coast of Mytilini. The famous poet Sappho was then living on Lesvos, also the singer and poet Arion and the poet Alkeos were born here. In the centuries following Lesvos was a ball played by different hands: the Romans, Italians (Venetians and Catalucians), Catalan pirates, the Franks, Byzantines and finally in 1462 it was conquered by the Ottomans.

Only the Romans left an impressive building: the towering aqueduct of Moria. The Turkish were good at building public drinking water fountains, they constructed the now famous monopatis (walking paths) and the olive groves. They never built huge buildings. Lesvos was just occupied territory.

Neither did modern times provide Lesvos with impressing buildings. Although in some areas, such as Molyvos, they ensure that all new buildings are built in the traditional style. For really modern architecture you have to go southwards. Just near Plomari you will find modern houses on the strangest sites, like on top of a mountain. The suburb Agias Varvaras seems to be a modern residential area in the middle of olive trees, full of modern houses with a lot of non Greek- looking glass walls, corners and bay-windows.

Everywhere around the island you will find small museums like the local museums of Vatoussa or Napi. In Mytilini you will find the historical museum and the modern museum where they have prints made by famous painters such as Picasso, Chagall, Courbusier and Miro. In the capital, throughout the year, they have different exhibitions as well as one in the summer in Molyvos.

But for really modern art you have to go to Athens. Last week there was the Art Athina exhibition, organized by the Ministry of Culture, where about 70 artists participated. It didn't last long. A few days after the opening the police came in to seize a video installation by the Greek artist Stefani. The owner of the gallery was arrested and the gallery was closed.

The installation by Stefani consisted of a peephole through which you could see images from old porno movies from the sixties and seventies. One of the musical pieces you could hear was the national anthem of Greece. Which was too much for one visitor. He went to the police to complain and so there was another big row in the Greek art world.

Another cultural incident took place around the end of May in this same capital. During an exhibition to commemorate the death 30 years ago of Maria Callas, a dress of hers was stolen. A few days later the silk dress was returned by post...

Although Molyvos used to be known for its residential artists, modern art is not much to be found here. Shops all sell the same brick-a-brack, souvenirs, the same books, the same postcards. The one exception is in Petra, where you can find the little shop of the Canadian artist Paul who, besides his paintings, sells plaster fishes and other arty paraphernalia. There is no need to wake up a censor about this.

Athens remains the undisputed Greek cultural capital, with a censorship commission. The birthplace of so many famous philosophers, the city that is known as the cradle of the western civilization, this city should be ashamed of censoring their artists. This is not the first time that an artists work has been banned. In an exhibition for the opening of the Olympic Games an art work was taken out because the Orthodox Church was offended. A little later a comic strip about the life of Jesus was banned in Greece for the same reasons. And not only the works of art are removed, but also the artist is persecuted, and in this latest case the owner of the gallery as well. Lesvos was once a state of sea barbarians (pirates), in Athens nowadays you will find cultural barbarians!

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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