Saturday, 20 January 2018

Fallen Angel

Phylax, by Kostis Georgiou, a 8-metre high sculpture displayed in Palaio Faliro near Athens, was torn down on Wednesday night. A group of 13 black-clad individuals tied it to the back of a truck and drove away, pulling it down. The bright red sculpture shaped like an angel has been the subject of intense protests by religious conservatives and far right groups since it was installed on December the 5th. The statue had suffered two vandalism attacks before being torn down. The first act of vandalism was covering it with white paint. A couple of days later, unknown perpetrators cut the wires of the tram nearby, apparently thinking that they would cut the power that illuminates the Phylax at night.

Phylax in ancient Greek means guard, watcher and protector. The protesters argue that the image of the red naked man with wings is provocative and symbolises Lucifer, the Dawn-Bringer, the satanic Morning Star, and Devil - red is the colour of the devil, they argue.

Furthermore, on January 3 over 100 Christian residents led by one of the local priests marched to the site and demanded its removal. The protesters held Greek flags, icons and sang humns. The priest sprinkled 'holy water' on the statue in order to 'exorcise its demons'. The protest included an open letter written by the priest declaring that 'the sculpture is a demon and a soldier of Satan, that instead of being honoured must be despised as blasphemous to the holy trinity. It is an affront to Orthodoxy and the Christian faith'.

The final act was on Wednesday night. The wings of the sculpture are now broken.


There is no separation between the state and the church in Greece. For the last 600 years the church has embraced conservatism as its credo and has vehemently opposed any form of liberal social, political and cultural change.

Furthermore, the Greek Orthodox Church has long been not just a religious force but also an economic one, with a stake in the Greek National Bank, landholdings second only to the Greek government and has a clergy bankrolled by the state. There are more than 10,000 priests on state payrolls, who cost taxpayers $238 million a year. Tax breaks on the church's landholdings keep even more money away from government coffers at a time when the country is crippled by austerity. The Greek church and its monasteries don't have to pay the unpopular property tax, making the church exempt from austerity.

According to the Kathimerini newspaper, the church was worth 700 million euros in 2008. Stefanos Manos, a former finance minister, reckons the figure is at least 1 billion euros. These figures however do not take into account the many parishes, some of which are very rich, nor property under the direct ownership of Greece's 80 bishoprics, which enjoy considerable independence. It also overlooks the wealth of 450 monasteries. 'There is no accounting system to detail the church's actual income, and no one really knows quite how much land it owns because there is no land register. This situation suits both the church and the state, because politicians are reluctant to upset the Orthodox authorities' says Manos.

The church is too involved in government life and a series of corruption scandals have dogged church leaders in recent years. Those include a thousand-year old monastery's land swap with the Greek government that cost taxpayers an estimated $130 million.

This is the context in which the controversy over Phylax is being played out. The economic and political power that the church yields in Greece has immense influence on its social and cultural life, particularly since the Greek people are one of the most religious in Europe. The Church is opposed to any form of abortion, is against homosexuality and strongly promotes traditional family values.

The Corpus Christi riots in 2013, where the Church united with the neo-fascist group Golden Dawn in their opposition to a play which depicted Jesus and the Apostles as gay men living in modern day Texas is a good example of the role the church plays in Greek society today. Bishop Seraphim, of Piraeus, along with four of Golden Dawn's MPs, filed a joint complaint to stop the play's premiere. They lost in court but won in the streets by stopping Corpus Christi from ever debuting in Athens because conditions at the playhouse proved too dangerous for the actors.

Following the riots, in a public statement Metropolitan Ambrosios of Kalavryta praised the neo-fascist party as protectors of Greece's nationalist identity, calling it a 'sweet hope' for Greece's suffering citizens. In a separate remark, Bishop Andreas, of Dryinoupolis, Pogoniani and Konitsa, referred to Golden Dawn as the 'lads in black shirts, the good fighting lads'.

I don't think I need to say more....


You can read more about the Corpus Christi riots here  (second long paragraph). Or, Greece's Fascist Homophobes Have God and Police on Their Side, by Laurie Penny here .

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Memories - Julia Dimakopoulou

Memories - Julia Dimakopoulou at the Institute of Greek Contemporary Art, Athens.

Dimakopoulou was one of the founders of  New Forms, one of the most influential galleries of contemporary art in Athens. She was the gallery's director until 2009. Running the gallery took up most of her time and it's only in the last few years that she has been able to fully concentrate on her painting. Another fact about Dimakopoulou is that she does not like exhibiting so this exhibition is against the norm.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

A long walk by the sea

Having experienced a very cold winter in the UK so far this year, what a relief it was to arrive in sunny Athens where the temperatures reached 17oC. What better way to enjoy this weather, than going for a walk by the sea. We took the tram to Palaio Faliron and then started walking. The marina in Flisvos was packed last Sunday.

Children preparing the boats, ready for their sailing lesson.

The yachting club restaurant might look empty at 12:00, but all the tables were reserved

It's a good place to come for lunch, with excellent food and lovely views of the sea and the boats.

We wandered around for a while and eventually reached

Neraida (Mermaid) a boat that is a museum now. The tour of the boat includes a film that tells you all about its history. It was appropriated by the British during WWII who used it as an emergency medical boat. After the war the British refused to give the ship back, so one of the Greek ship owners bought the boat for £45,000 in 1954. It was used as a commercial passenger boat for 34 years but was also used in various films, most notably in Sofia Lauren's first starring role.

We continued with our walk

a different view of Neraida.

It's very pleasant walking around this area

which is full of bars and restaurants.

The boats here are massive, rich men's playthings.

We eventually left the marina and starting walking on the promenade

enjoying the huge expanse of blue.

We stopped at the fair ground for a bit

I was dead chuffed to get the bubbles on camera

and then back along the promenade

past the submarine memorial

where lots of people were having quiet moments.

Due to the horrendous oil spill in the area in September swimming is still not allowed in most parts of the Saronic Gulf. You can read about that here

After the main square in P. Faliron the promenade runs along the tram lines

past the chess players - you can see on the right hand side of this photograph two swimmers who are defying the swimming ban

we continued along the promenade which leads to the marina in our area and eventually back to where we started from - home.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The art trail - January 2018

Another walk around Kolonaki which includes visiting some of the private galleries in the area. First stop, the shop of the Zoumboulakis galleries.

Nikos Nikolaou, Mask, (tempera on paper bag, inside plexiglass case)

Manolis Romantzis

Manolis Romantzis

Yannis Moralis, Erotic, 1991

Next stop, the shop of the Hadjikyriakos-Ghika annex of the Benaki Museum, which is just across the road.

Margarita Ecclesiarchou, bowl

Ecclesiarchou is one of my favourite Greek ceramicists and it's always a pleasure seeing her work. She's constantly changing, trying different approaches, breaking boundaries. You can see more of her work herehere , and  here

Margarita Ecclesiarchou

Margarita Ecclesiarchou

Margarita Ecclesiarchou

Just around the corner is Ekfrasi Gallery where there is an exhibition of Juliano Kaglis' abstract paintings.

We eventually ended up in Phillippou, our favourite taverna in Kolonaki and one we frequently visit.

The food is delicious, very reasonably priced and the service is excellent - what more could one want?

We arrived at 1:00 - too early for most Greeks, but by the time we left the place was full.

Artists who have patronised this taverna over the years - it was established in 1923 - have donated some of their work. This print is by Yannis Moralis as is the one below.

and this one is by Yannis Tsarouhis.