Grandma and the Aunts*

At the beginning of the 70’s, in the centre of Athens, you could still park your car at the side of the street without a worry. You greeted your neighbours by their names and the shopkeepers would bring the groceries at home when needed; kyr-Yannis brought the vegetables, kyr-Dionysis the meat. The ‘nouveautées’ store ‘Miranda’ under our apartment had nearly all the rest; supermarkets did not exist yet. On the contrary, families still existed in their wider form and everyone had their function therein. Giagia (grandma) Aphroditi the Athenean, as the eldest member of our household had the sceptres of the kitchen. But, very often, more elderly women, aunt Thália, aunt Efrosyni, or even giagia Elpiniki from Ioannina, would enter the kitchen with rolled up sleeves and a recipe in the hand. They would make all kinds of pitas and cakes, each one giving them an own taste and shape. The talent and the drive of these women would not stop there. Cooking was only one of their talents; their craftwork was another one. Their hands were constantly busy with mixing ingredients or with arranging threads. As a kid, I could not perceive the point of all this commotion. In brief, who needed all these embroideries, crochets, bedcovers, tablecloths, and all the smaller or bigger decorated textile? Much later, when my busy aunts were long departed, I found myself in possession of a few handmade pieces which became the most valuable part of my household. In each handmade piece you can always see the personality of the maker; even more when you personally knew them and you have witnessed the process for years.

My mother, Athiná, was also a keen craftswoman. Although she had a job as a book keeper and her repertoire in the kitchen was suppressed under the dominance of grandma and the aunts, she found the time to produce a remarkable volume of textile, all handmade and perfect to the detail. The handworks of her generation mark the end of the tradition of homemade textiles; at least in Athens. The enormous changes in the daily life, in the family bonds and in the expectations of the people of the end of the 80’s and after, limited seriously the available time for concentrating on a complicated textile work or for making a complete meal for that matters. For me, skipping to the following era with our devises and electronic contacts, I felt like pushing a break when I started experimenting with textile. I would never be able to follow a pattern like my aunts did, but as a painter, I envision textiles produced with the experience of painting. I make expressionistic drawings on embroidery. In fact, I draw directly with threads on the woven material. Although my embroideries, as mirror picture of our turbulent times, carry the thread of uneasiness, the medium itself keeps the essence of a timeless moment, the room for uninterrupted thinking, and in the same time the continuity of an activity that passed from aunt to aunt.  Now I am part of  the process that I once witnessed and this ties me with the ideal big family of my childhood thoughts; moreover it weaves in my roots the idea of an artistic production without commercial goal and thus beyond price.

* A slightly different version of this text was published in the Dutch language magazine “Lychnari” no1-2011, under the title “De bezige tantes” (the busy aunts); it was accompanying a recipe for kolokythópita.