Exhibition with a multicultural vision of city life

There’s not enough room to swing a cat on Aghiou Constantinou Square on a Sunday around noon. Throngs of people from every corner of the globe stroll along the traffic-congested streets, traverse Omonia’s filthy intersections, and cross paths at the center of the city that brought them all together. These are the migrants of Athens and they are the subject of a large photography project launched by the British Council and embraced by the Hellenic Institute of Migration Policy. The project was executed by 14 photographers and a group of students of different nationalities from 10 schools in the Attica district, coordinated by Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos. Coincidentally, some of the best picks of this ambitious program have been put on display at the heart of this world, at the Eynardou Mansion, the seat of the National Bank Cultural Foundation at 20 Aghiou Constantinou Street. The exhibition is titled «City Streets» and runs to January 13, before heading off for Thessaloniki and Brussels. In an exhibition with such strong social resonance, the creative process tends to overshadow the artistic quality of the output. «We wanted to focus on the subject of coexistence and to avoid any concept of didacticism,» notes anthropologist Nadina Christopoulou, the project’s scientific adviser. The project began with the selection of 14 young photographers who were given the order to get out into the streets of Athens for 14 months to take the city’s pulse and to try on the metropolitan mantle for the very first time. At the same time, a multinational group of students selected from 10 schools in Attica recorded individual moments of everyday life in their neighborhoods, at home and at school. They were guided by photographer Camilo Nollas. «We didn’t tell them to take pictures of children at traffic lights, but to seek within their own homes the small stories of migration, even if they were born in Athens. A grandmother trying out a recipe she learned as a child in Smyrna in her kitchen in Pangrati tells its own story of migration,» says Nollas. Economopoulos, the general supervisor, was thrilled with the idea of the project from the onset, though it did also give him food for some serious thought. «The influx of immigrants into Greece is, in my opinion, the most significant event in Greek society of the past 15 years,» he said yesterday, shortly before the exhibition’s inauguration. «It is very easy to fall into the trap and end up with an exhibition that looks like a school show.» There is nothing childish about the result, however. Every photograph in «City Streets» is a breath of fresh air and carries a surprise.