“Stand Free,” an interactive installation by visual artist Maria Fragoudaki, is on display at Athens International Airport through October.
The installation contains a single item – a fustanella, a pleated skirt-like garment worn by Greek fighters in the War of Independence against the occupying Ottoman Empire (1821-29) and still part of the uniform of the Evzones, the country’s elite Presidential Guard.
It is believed that skirt-like garments were worn by soldiers dating back to antiquity as they did not impede movement. But the fustanella, in particular, has come to symbolize the Greek struggle against a foreign occupier and, by association, freedom itself. It is certainly no coincidence that Fragoudaki has chosen to showcase the garment on the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the uprising.
Fragoudaki’s aim is to connect the visitor with the historical experience of the Greek people. Viewers are called to think about, or rethink the meaning of freedom itself.
Having experimented with a variety of materials, Fragoudaki has settled on cloth for her recent project because she finds it challenging and inviting.
A previous installation, in Athens’ central Syntagma Square in 2017, was called “Bedsheets – The Duality of Freedom.” The installation, she said, sought to interpret and to communicate the movement of the body on the sheets, which is connected to the deeper meaning of freedom: of the individual, of society, of the citizen.
The present installation may again be about freedom, but there’s little movement in it, or communal enjoyment. It is meant to be seen by one person at a time, standing before the display. Markings on the ground show where the viewer needs to stand so that they can imagine themselves wearing the fustanella (although the one-size-fits-all suggestion may find the garment awkwardly draped on some people). The installation is accompanied by a recorded message which the audience can access through their cellphone’s QR code app. Fragoudaki wants the lone spectator watching him or herself becoming part of the installation to enter into an internal dialogue that should console or inspire reflection.
“The means for achieving this connection is none other than the fustanella. The fustanella, through the mirror, becomes attire so that visitors, ‘wearing’ the fustanella of our ancestors, can Stand Free. The fustanella is the bridge to the past, while the predominant white symbolizes the purity of national struggles and the sanctity of irredentist battles.
Within that context, the concept of Freedom takes on a different meaning of greater import. It is self-evident that Freedom was not possible without Revolution. The struggle of 1821 is the prerequisite historical event that enabled contemporary Greeks to stand Tall, stand Free. It is the boundaries of that Freedom that all Greeks are now called upon to reconsider through the prism of the contemporary world and all of its challenges, whilst preserving our sense of identity and our connection to our past and our history,” says the artist.
Fragoudaki, born in Athens, in 1983, finished graduate studies in chemistry but was drawn to art about a decade ago. Inspired by the Process Art movement of the 1960s, the New York-based artist currently focuses more on materials than colors, and how they interact with each other and the surrounding space.