When your Mom is mentioned in Greek Vogue, you blog about it. Actually, I should have written this blog post a while ago, to share this beautiful project called Sharing Perama, that my mother Barbara Polla ideated and then made a reality on February 20, 2020 (02/20/2020 – an auspicious date). This Vogue article is just an excuse and the timing is perfect.
I owe my love of Greece to my maternal grandparents who moved their family of five to Tinos in the mid 1960s and spent two years discovering the country, absorbing Greek culture and philosophy. During this time, my mother, then a teenager, met Papa Georgios (Father George), a clergyman based in Perama, a working-class suburb of Athens in the district of Pireaus. Papa Georgios took care of the refugees and the poor of his parish. Inspired by him, she volunteered and assisted in his efforts, until his imprisonment and then execution by fascists in 1967. More than 50 years later, she wanted to honor him and his core values of kindness and hope. Thus the project Sharing Perama was born.
Who better to work on this than the British artist Robert Montgomery, whose poetry and conceptual art, often perceived as political, is permeated with hope. “Specifically, he writes poems which he depicts in paintings and installations, with light, flames, wood, watercolors. He believes that art has a place in the streets mainly and not in museums.” (quote from Vogue article).
On February 20, 2020, the Municipality of Perama and Sharing Perama, with the kind support of ΟΛΠ (Pireaus Port Authority S.A.), welcomed and lit the first public sculpture by Robert Montgomery, which is placed permanently at Terma Peramatos where the boats leave for and from Salamis (the busiest ferry terminal of Europe).
The exhibition is running now through 2022. For more information, please click here.
To contribute, please click here.
The below is extracted and translated from the interview with Robert Montgomery in the current issue of Vogue Greece, an issue dedicated to hope. This is not the entire interview and the order of the questions has been rearranged.
Tell me now about your new project in Greece.
It is called “We share Perama” (www.sharingperama.com), it started last February and will be active for the next two years With the support of the Greek Ministry of Culture and with the cooperation of the mayor of Perama we create visual, poetic, theatrical works based and inspiration the area. In December, the director Dimitris Babilis will stage at the Municipal Theater of Perama the first play by Dimitris Dimitriadis entitled The Price of Revolt in the Black Market, which I consider important. I am also collaborating with the artist Mario Fournaris – a native of Perama – on an art exhibition on ecology, which will be presented at the Museum of Perama, which is revived through the project. Also, filmmakers Christos Panagos and Charalambos Margaritis are preparing a film entitled Dreaming Perama. Finally, to say that it is a great honor for me that the award-winning Greek poet Krystalli Glyniadaki translates my poems into Greek, as part of the project. In general, there are remarkable Greek artists with whom I collaborate on this project and I am very happy about it.
How did you get involved in this?
The project was inspired by the very important Swiss curator Barbara Polla. The idea was to honor the clergyman George Demitriadis. Father George, from his post in the parish of Perama, took care of the refugees and the poor in the ’60s. He was executed by the fascists in 1967. He is a hero who has not been heard of or glorified. Barbara Polla in her adolescence was a volunteer in his work. Growing up and acquiring an artistic voice, she wanted to honor him, but also with her eyes fixed on the future, she also wanted to make a comment about kindness and hope. He invited me to visit the place and I responded immediately, as I grew up in Glasgow, which is a shipbuilding city, so Perama reminded me of my childhood, I felt a connection. Of course, Perama is more beautiful than Glasgow, because you have the blue sea and this light. It is also built amphitheatrically on the coastline of Attica. It inspired me from the first moment.
The first installation of the project, last February, was a phrase at the port gate: “The Beginning of Hope”. This issue of Vogue Greece is dedicated to hope and I would like to ask you what hope is for you. What thoughts and feelings do you have?
I would say that Perama is a good example of what hope is. It is a friendly neighborhood full of pride, created by a group of refugees. People who worked hard and proudly and built their lives from scratch. For me Perama is a truly beautiful place. Those first refugees who settled there give through their lives the very definition of hope, which has in it strength and momentum for new beginnings.
What are the main issues you are dealing with?
Nature, utopia, society, ecology, love, the pain caused by love, memories, light, color.
How would you describe the language you use?
I think it is romantic. It involves pain and hope.
How would you characterize the aesthetics of your works?
Poetry is captured through light and painting.
You have justified your art form by claiming that people would rather see poems on the streets than soft drink ads. I wonder if you feel alien to the modern world and if you really want to change it in your own way.
Now I feel happy in the world. I have a wonderful wife, my children, I feel blessed. To change or save the world? I do not think artists can do that. If we are to save the world from ecological disaster, for example, we can only do it all together. Recently people all over the world united to fight against the pandemic. Which showed us how we can deal with a crisis when we are all together and that money is not the most important good. We need to show the same unity to protect our planet.
You have said that you love words because they are imbued with a slowness. How is slowness a virtue?
I believe that poetry has a magical ability to slow down the rhythms of the mind and entice you to meditate.
Another phrase that impressed me was this: “The meaning of art is to touch the hearts of strangers, without getting into the trouble of meeting them.” Really, is it a hassle to know a person?
Yes. I’m pretty shy. Many shy people become artists or writers.
You have developed the theory that the people we love become ghosts within us and so we keep them alive. Tell me a little about it.
It is a view I expressed through a work dedicated to the death of artist Sean Watson. He was my best friend from university and is always in my heart.
What role does melancholy play in your work? Is it an important “ingredient”?
I believe that melancholy is a process of the heart. It is the creation of beauty through sadness.