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Guardians of the past

Armoured vans, armed security, and diligent sign offs - travelling Benaki Museum conservators ensure safe arrival of Greece's historical past to Australia

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Hands on: Benaki Museum conservator Elefthereia Goufa getting the artefacts ready for the Hellenic Museum exhibition.

09 September 2014

You'd think Benaki Museum conservators Elefthereia Goufa and Naoum Kokkalas are famous celebrities when they step onto the tarmac at any given international airport. Always surrounded by four armed security guards, the two Greeks take it in their stride, as their job requires an intense amount of responsibility, concentration and care.

Goufa and Kokkalas are the cultural guardians of one of the largest travelling collections from the Benaki Museum. They are solely responsible for the safe delivery of 8,000 years of Greek heritage from the world renowned Athenian museum to the Hellenic Museum in Melbourne.

The exhibition 'Gods, Myths & Mortals' - to open on Friday 12 September - spans 8,000 years of Greek civilisation. The collection will see gold and priceless treasures housed in Melbourne's former Royal Mint for an unprecedented period of ten years.

Including pieces that have never before left Greece, the collection encompasses weaponry, figurines, statues, jewellery, costumes, manuscripts and icons.

Together, conservators Goufa and Kokkalas have almost 50 years experience in the conservation, restoration and installation of cultural artefacts. They have worked all over the world - from installing the first Byzantine exhibition in the US to the restoration of churches in Istanbul.

"They're like humans, they've had a life," says Goufa about each object she comes in contact with.

"Everything has influenced its life - when they were born, where they lived, where they were found," she says, "and it's up to us to tell the story."

It's the role of the conservator to explore this past in order to give each item a solid future. Through research, experience and knowledge, they determine the condition of the item and what method of conservation is required for its survival.

The treasure's past fast becomes its future as its story continues to be told through the tireless and careful work of a conservator, the one responsible for breathing new life into timeless treasures and ancient antiquities.

The exhibition 'Gods, Myths & Mortals: Greek treasures across the millennia' opens on Saturday 12 September at Hellenic Museum, 280 William Street, Melbourne. For more information visit www.hellenic.org.au/coming-soon

*Look out for the Thursday 11 September Greek edition of Neos Kosmos, which will feature a supplement about the Hellenic Museum exhibition.

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