Report from Greece

28 Apr

The mainstream cultural scene in Greece had been, in the past twenty years or so, largely Eurocentric, particularly in the field of theater and performance: the postmodern trends of Germany, new playwriting from Britain, and increasingly American dramaturgy were featuring prominently in every season. Artistic directors of significant institutions, later moved to key positions of state theaters and foundations, would infuse these institutions with their own Eurocentric experiences and sensibilities. The result was a programming that was opening up to the international scene but primarily in a one-way direction: the north-west, at the expense of giving an opportunity to Greek audiences to find out what is happening in the arts scene of their immediate neighbors.
Coming back this time, I am noticing a shift: more and more theaters and institutions start exploring notions of “Greekness” and a collective identity in broader terms, looking beyond the here and now in diasporic or past identities, freed from nationalistic excesses, or exploring the country’s broader Euro-Mediterranean and Balkan history and connections. And while not mainstream, these efforts are gaining ground and being endorsed by prestigious foundations. I cannot say for sure what is the reason for such a shift- surely the sociopolitical changes in the Mediterranean region that bring the Arab world to the fore, and the alienation that the country feels from central Europe as a result of the current harsh European economic policies towards the south, play an important part. But in addition as new theater groups emerge and young artists start making their mark, there seems to be a need for new forms, new texts, new styles and sources of inspiration. It will be indeed of interest to see what artistic forms- if any- and trends beyond Europe’s worn-out postmodernism will emerge to express the contemporary Greek psyche and the country’s tumultuous present. Until then here’s some of the events happening at present that attracted my attention:
-As part of their Cycle Mediterranean, a story of Charm, the new Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, presented the symposium People and the global trade in the Mediterranean’s port cities of Antiquity and the 21st century with artists and researchers from Turkey, Greece and France. The same Center is currently presenting the exhibition Polyglossia, with works by contemporary Greek artists from the diaspora. According to the program the exhibition wants to “shed light on the convergences and divergences (in, for instance, the media chosen or how it is used), both between artists of roughly the same generation in relation to their American or European norms, and between artists of different generations who employ the same means of expression.”

-The Benakis Museum of Islamic Art has brought to Athens the exhibition “The Book of Travels” around the figure of Evliya Celebi, a traveler of the Ottoman Empire. The exhibition was first presented in England, as part of the British Council’s program Our shared Europe, to explore the interconnections between the Ottoman and British Empires. The exhibition at the Benaki museum, set among the museum’s permanent collection, is beautiful in giving details of the architecture, religious practices and daily life in major cities of the Ottoman Empire, through Celebi’s eyes.

-Outside of Athens, in the northern city of Kozani, the Third Festival of Storytelling is devoted on the topics of refugees, immigration and diaspora and will present invited artists from Greece, Cyprus, Albania, France, Lebanon, Armenia and more. You can check it out here: www.kozani-festival.gr
-The upcoming Thessaloniki International Book Fair, “opens widely a gate to the Mediterranean based on contemporary ideas and current riots with Middle East Festival – when ideas revolt”. It will feature prominent writers such as: Salwa Al Neimi (Syria), Gamal Ghitany (Egypt), David Grossman (Israel), Tuna Kiremitci (Turkey), Hoda Barakat (Lebanon), Deniz Kavukçuoğlu, (Turkey), Sophie Bessis (Tunisia), Boualem Sansal (Algeria), Malek Chebel (Algeria), Bahaa Taher (Egypt) and Subhi Hadidi (Syria). (Stay tuned with the BTS blog for interviews with some of the participating artists).
And last but not least: A celebration of ancient Greek and Byzantine gastronomy with lectures, tasting, recipes and music is coming up at the Lazaridis Estate. Enjoy!

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