CULTURE

Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ is the basis for a varied art project

Homer’s «Odyssey» is the point of departure for a multi-faceted artistic project that began several months ago as a Greek initiative but with an international scope. «Penelopeia: The Other Journey» is a project that links 15 Greek women artists with one female artist each from the present 15 EU member countries. Working in pairs but not necessarily to produce joint works, the artists have based their work on a selected theme inspired by the «Odyssey» that has been adapted to have a contemporary resonance. The project is developing through a website that connects the artists and includes a discussion panel and journal, both of which feature selected specialists on Homer and on broader themes related to the project. «Penelopeia,» which was originally launched on the occasion of the Greek European Union presidency, works on various levels. As an artistic project, it explores online collaboration, alternative ways of producing and exhibiting art, as well as the potential of art to further cultural understanding. In many ways, «Penelopeia» is an experiment, a project that grows with time. The process seems to matter more than any fixed end product. The idea is that just as in the «Odyssey» epic; what occupy the narration’s greater part are the adventures that lead to Odysseus’ final destination. Just as in life – and in art – what seems to have greater significance is the process that leads to a goal and the learning experience it yields rather than any given outcome. The communicative, interactive process and the exchange of ideas count more than the works themselves: This seems to be a main principle of the «Penelopeia» project. It explains why the project is structured as ongoing and evolving and why its principal aim is to promote an artistic network that advances communication. Clearly, «Penelopeia» is also a project sensitive to a female perspective. It begins from the basic premise that the «Odyssey» is not just a story about the heroism of Odysseus but also about the adventures and trials of his wife Penelope, the story’s «unseen heroine.» It, therefore, offers a contemporary definition of heroism, viewing it not in terms of action and the public domain but more as an expression of commitment and the testing of one’s own limits. «Penelopeia» suggests that we view the Odyssey through the eyes of its female character, through the eyes of the «other.» By analogy, it proposes that we look at contemporary art through the eyes of women artists, who have long been marginalized as the «other» in art history. Just as it repositions the role of Penelope in Homer’s myth, giving it new significance, so does it suggest that we shift our attention to the position of women in contemporary art and accord them the place they deserve in the field. This goal has been a lifelong commitment for Zoe Kosmidou, a writer and cultural activities organizer, as well as the woman whose vision inspired «Penelopeia» and put the project together. Concerned that contemporary Greek women artists in particular were not receiving the international exposure they merited, Kosmidou began about 10 years ago an exhaustive documentation of those Greek women artists who had been active at the time (the 1990s). Her concern was justified, when, during her research, the only English publication on Greek women artists she could find was the catalogue of an exhibition held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. during the late ’80s, an exhibition which she had helped organize. (Kosmidou has lived for years in the USA and is currently assigned to Washington with the Greek Foreign Ministry). The research which she has embarked upon since then has led to the recent publication of «The Power of Visual Logos: Greek Women Artists,» a book that documents and places a large selection of Greek women artists in the social and art historical context of Greece. The book has been published in English by the International Center for the Arts and Nature with a partial funding by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and will be released in Greek in the fall. Based on her extended research, Kosmidou then came up with the «Penelopeia» project. It is a project that follows up on a number of other international exhibitions that Kosmidou has organized since 1989, either independently or for the Foreign Ministry. The traveling exhibitions «Art-Union-Europe,» «Sea Links» and «From Silk to Cyber Route,» organized on the occasion of the centennial friendship between Greece and Japan, are some of her major projects. Just as with the «Penelopeia» project, the idea is to use art as a means of cross-cultural communication. This is a goal that probably stems from Kosmidou’s training in international relations and cultural communication, the fields she has studied along with architecture and photography. «Penelopeia: The Other Journey» is currently an online project (www.penelopeia.net). Its website describes the works in process and lists the artists and the themes addressed, as well as containing selected essays dealing with Penelope. It also contains a forum section and a journal with contributions by members of academia. Gregory Nage, director of the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, has contributed an essay on the notion of weaving, and specialists in Homer have also participated. Hopefully many of those involved will also meet at a «Penelopeia» forum that Kosmidou plans to organize on the island of Ithaca next summer. Apart from the website, «Penelopeia» also extends its ideas to art exhibitions. An exhibition of the project’s preparatory drawings and photos from the artists who were initially involved was shown earlier in the summer at the premises of the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. The actual works will go on display in a traveling exhibition next year. Kosmidou is also planning to show a special version of the exhibition at Athens international airport (and possibly other venues with some relation to traveling), as well as on the theme of «crossing boundaries» during the Olympic Games. Another important objective is to expand the «Penelopeia» project to women artists of developing countries. «Penelopeia: The Other Journey» is, after all, about understanding otherness, whether this is defined by gender, nationality or culture. Whether it is Greek women artists who fall into the category of «the other,» artists of developing countries, or people victimized by cultural prejudice, «Penelopeia» seeks to bridge the cultural misunderstandings that breed ignorance and create tension. Using an ancient myth whose hero is challenged by all sorts of different cultures as a universal, timeless paradigm, the «Penelopeia» project aspires to promote cross-cultural understanding through art. Echoing the weaving of Penelope, it «weaves» an artistic route, beginning in Greece and extending throughout the world not only in the hope that Greek contemporary women artists will gain more international exposure but that we might look to art to gain better insight into current, global political and social issues. The Greek women artists participating in the project are: Maria Anasazi, Lizzie Calligas, Tanacross Dimitriadi, Effie Halivopoulou, Maria Karametou, Anna Lascari, Zoe Leoudaki, Despo Magoni, Despina Meimaroglou, Maro Michalakakos, Arghyro Paouri, Maria Papadimitriou, Leda Papaconstantinou, Aemilia Papaphilippou and Chrysanne Stathacos. From Europe, among others, are Christine Clinckx from Belgium, Mai Ghoussoub from the UK, Ursula Christansen from Denmark, Betty Hager from Germany, Rita Pedulla from Italy, Ivana Cekovic from Luxembourg, Erika Dieterman-Koehler from the Netherlands, Rita Antonio from Portugal and Mia Enell from Sweden.