COMMUNITY

Mural aims to fill urban black hole

By Dimitris Rigopoulos

When Andreas Varelas, deputy mayor for sanitation at the City of Athens, posted a digital mock-up on his Facebook page of a mural by artist Manolis Anastasakos to be painted on the walls around an empty plot of land in the Hafteia district of Athens, near Omonia Square, he had no idea much interest it would generate.

The image quickly went viral, shared on Facebook and other social media sites. The point where Stadiou Street meets Aiolou has for the past 34 years borne the scars of an arson attack on the now-vanished Katrantzos sports store.

A whole generation of Athenians have grown accustomed to the depressing site of what used to be the interior walls of the long-gone store standing in this usually untidy space right in the heart of the capital. News of an initiative to revamp this unfortunate corner naturally aroused the interest of many who couldn’t understand why it had taken so long. Few are familiar with the details of the case, which involve the Orthodox Church as well as the City of Athens, which wants the area listed as a green space. The plot of land is property of the Maria Kassimati Public Benefit Foundation, chaired by the archbishop of all Greece, and its fate was often contested by the state authorities and the Church of Greece.

Now we seem closer than ever to a key intervention which will radically change the site. The City of Athens has made a deal with Anastasakos, a painter and street artist, whereby he will create a huge mural that will cover the two walls overlooking Stadiou Street. The mural will wow observers – and not just because of its size.

The design appears inspired by the work of German painter Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Many Athenians wondered whether the religious character of the artwork has something to do with the property owners. The artist has offered a different interpretation: “The work has a conceptual touch, not a religious one. I too would prefer a happier work, but it would be like I was mocking an entire era,” he said.

“I would like to see an artwork that creates internal as well as external points of reference. Also maybe some of that critical thinking which has gone missing. I just hope I get a chance to complete this work and that it will contain the things that I have described.”

The artist’s concern derives from previous collaborations which, for various reasons, failed to materialize. But it also derives from the complexities of the site. The Church of Greece appears to have given its consent while the supervisors of the two nearby blocks seem willing to cooperate. But some flat owners appear reluctant because they see no immediate economic benefit from the decision. They fail to appreciate the fact that similar murals have increased the property value of buildings abroad.

Anastasakos – who worked with the Kretsis Crew on “Praying for Us” on Pireos Street, near Omonia Square, and “No Signal” on Kriezotou Street – said that the new project would be the biggest single-theme mural in Greece, spreading over 1,400 square meters.

But before Anastasakos can climb up the scaffolding, municipal officials will first have to inspect the site as heavy rainfall and ensuing erosion last November caused significant damage to the sidewalk and part of the fence. The experts’ report will also determine the starting date for the work. If all goes as planned, April should be a realistic deadline. “I am going to need one month for this,” Anastasakos told Kathimerini.

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