Exclusive to Melbourne Museum from Greece’s prestigious National Archaeological Museum, Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections was launched yesterday to the media. Doors will open to the exhibition in April to tell the story of ideas, influences, and connections that have come together to form and build communities.
Visitors will experience an immersive and multifaceted journey through Ancient Greece exploring how the Greek civilisation influenced the ancient world but also how Greece evolved through the cultural exchange that the Mediterranean cauldron facilitated. The collaborative exhibition between Athens and Melbourne will provide visitors the opportunity to travel jointly through time to the world of ancient Greece and bring it into the present, reminding us that museums are our link between the past, present and future.
Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections features some of the most significant objects from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the first museum established in Greece following the country’s independence, home to the richest collection of artefacts from Greek antiquity worldwide. The project was also timed to celebrate of the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence, aided by the Victorian Government.
“The influence of Ancient Greece is writ large over the modern world. This exclusive Melbourne Museum exhibition will connect visitors to that influence, while giving them a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the stories of Victoria’s Greek communities and view artefacts that are visiting Australia for the first time ever”, said Danny Pearson, Minister for Creative Industries.
Some of the most extraordinary collection items on display, have left Athens for the first time.
These include a marble sphinx depicting a female head with the body of a winged lion and a collection of artefacts depicting Heracles.
Dr. Lina Mendoni, Minister of Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports shared her excitement that the extroversion, broad-mindedness and cosmopolitanism of Hellenic culture will be displayed in Australia, and that audiences will be able to witness the products of Ancient Greece’s ability to embrace and utilise foreign influences in a creative and original way.
It is worth mentioning that the Greek government had promised Australia a huge antiquities exhibition for 2021 to coincide with 200 years since Greek Independence in 1821, back in 2019 when former Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, clinched the pledge. Ms Mikakos had taken time out from her personal leave to pay a visit to a number of Greek officials, including the then newly appointed Greek Culture Minister Lena Mendoni.
The exhibition features 44 ancient works that date from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman period that represent periods of economic and cultural trade between Greece and its neighbours.
“Since antiquity, the Greeks have always followed the open horizons of the sea, constantly travelling to every corner of the world. A culture the Greeks carry with them no matter how far from home they find themselves,” Dr. Mendoni said.
“This exhibition is an expression of homage and tribute. On the one hand to the numerous Greeks of Melbourne and the whole of Australia, who maintain their Greek spirit strong and prosperous although open horizons led them so far from Greece. And on the other hand, to the great country that generously welcomed them, allowing them to find a new hospitable homeland there.”
With that in mind, the National Archaeological Museum of Greece is making a first step towards expanding its well-established 20-year exhibition program via the first-time release of this loan featuring an array of some of its most prestigious items to be shared in an exhibition hosted by a prestigious cultural institution of a foreign country.
Dr. Anna Vasiliki Karapanagiotou, the Director at the National Archaeology Museum Greece expressed her gratitude to Melbourne Museum and Museums Victoria for giving Greece the unique opportunity to not just display these important artefacts as exhibits, but to create an objective reading and evaluation of the past through their stories.
“(Open Horizons) invites the visitor to new paths of the mind. It also constitutes a penetration to the global cultural grand scheme of today,” she said.
Neos Kosmos, being a long time supporter of this much anticipated project has sat down with Linda Sproul, Melbourne Museum Director of Exhibitions and Audiences Experiences who is responsible for a groundbreaking approach in ensuring that the visitor’s journey through the exhibition is an experience that can be ‘innerstood’ in a way that surmounts stereotypical ideas rooted in people’s perception “that museums are musty, dusty places”.
“Melbourne Museum is so exciting, and relevant and engaging for everyone that comes to it,” she enthused, explaining that a core question prior to undertaking the project was: “How are we going to make sure an antiquities exhibition is exactly that, relevant and exciting to people living in Melbourne today?”
“What was amazing is that our partners at the National Archaeology Museum worked with us on that very question, being very aware of the nature of the Greek Diaspora globally and of Melbourne being the third largest Greek city after Athens and Thessaloniki,” she said, explaining that the theme that they jointly decided could bring those beautiful artefacts into today is that of journey and connection between people.
The objects selected to be displayed in Melbourne tell a story about the cultural exchange between people. There is trade, there is spirituality and there is art; aspects of this exchange that transcends the monolithic perception of culture as a one way thing belonging to solely one ethnic group.
“This exhibition is looking at culture and community made from exchange backwards and forwards, something Ancient Greeks embraced and cultivated,” Ms Sproul says.
“That’s why we did the community call-out for images, titled ‘Journeys Past and Present’, because when you are leaving the National Archaeology Museum’s exhibition there is an epilogue from the community here where you walk through. You can see images of journeys, love and life. An immersive experience that aspires to be more relevant and relatable to not just Greeks but everyone that might have a similar story that has come to Melbourne.”
Melbourne Museum is also planning a poetry competition with schools a project initiated and supported by Neos Kosmos, to connect literature from Ancient Greece with today.
“We are shaping this up for entries to be in both Greek and English to promote language learning. We’ll pull in the Modern Greek Language Program in La Trobe and advisory members like Varvara Ioannou who has been pivotal in language learning,” Ms Sproul said.
“Secondly, aside from the exhibition opening on the weekend of 23-24 of April, we are going to have an amplified program on the last weekend of May; a mini festival day in collaboration with the Hellenic Museum.”
A Community Advisory Group has been set up to provide counsel to Museums Victoria and act as community ambassadors and champions for the exhibition. The Open Horizons Advisory Group is made up of leading community members from state government, industry, and education sectors.
“This exhibition demonstrates the important relationships that exist between Greece and Australia and highlights the significant role Greek diaspora has played in the development of the multicultural and cosmopolitan fabric of Australia” says Bill Papastergiadis OAM, Chair of Community Advisory Group told Neos Kosmos.
“My involvement is to assist Melbourne Museums where possible, in terms of the project’s outreach to the Greek Community and the broader community. To provide insight on how we can better connect Greece with Australia through my role as President of the Greek Community of Melbourne, and help create an illustration of how Australia – and Melbourne in particular- lead a cosmopolitan life.
“The exhibition really is an example of that, we are connecting the global diaspora, into Melbourne – the two very strong Hellenic communities in the motherland and here in Victoria. It gives us the opportunity to reflect and comprehend what transpired in Ancient Greece, what was created, and what we can take going forward. It’s a connection not only from a perspective of thought, imagination and inspiration, but also in a real sense, as we are bringing artefacts here physically, and it’s the first time that it’s happening in Melbourne and in Victoria. Hopefully this is only one of the many steps a vibrant cosmopolitan, multicultural city and country can take to connect with Greece and other countries that might follow.”
Steve Dimopoulos MLA, agreed that Open Horizons marks a special moment for both the Greek community in Melbourne and the broader community of Victoria.
“We have secured an exhibition from Athens to come here for 4 months and I could not think of a better city in the world for an exhibition from Ancient Greece to be displayed. A city that is proud of its geek community and wants to show it off,” Mr Dimopoulos told Neos Kosmos.
“If you consider the past two years, what we’ve been through… It is so profound for Hellenes here to be able to reconnect with that heritage, that their children and grandchildren will be able to touch and feel it in Carlton, Melbourne. We don’t say we are the arts and culture capital of Australia – we live it. The Premier and the Government were very committed to bringing this exhibition here for the Greek and wider community of Victoria, having allocated 2 million dollars.
“Five thousand years and more of Ancient Greek history in Melbourne! The fact that the Greek Government and the National Archaeological Museum trust us with that cultural heritage treasure is sensational. We invite people from all cultures living in Victoria to come and see our history and where we come from. It’s for the 6.3 million Victorians that don’t have to get on a plane to experience this.”
Kat Theophanous MLA also expressed her excitement and pride for the project: “This is a wonderfully special exhibition for the Greek community and every Victorian because it resonates so strongly with our history and our roots. The Greek civilisation has played, such a pivotal role in forming so many aspects of our current civilisation, from the way we pass laws in parliament to the way that our buildings look; the way our art, science and study of ethics are based and evolve. So many facets of our modern world are imprinted with Hellenism. It’s in resonance, with everyone here in Melbourne, whether they are from another culture, a Victorian or a visitor. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our state and I am very happy to see it.”
Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections will be open to visitors on Saturday 23 April. Tickets will be included with general entry to Melbourne Museum. Bookings are essential.