Last week I saw Effy Alexakis latest exhibition ‘Survey’, at the Shop Gallery in Sydney’s Glebe. Survey, as the title alludes is a chronicle of Alexakis’ past and future work. The subjects of her work are Greek-Australians and Greece.

Alexakis has a well-earned her reputation as one of Australia’s leading documentary photographers. The pieces in the exhibition set in the small Gallery in Glebe are personal and recognisable. We feel the exhausted expression on the face of local priest Father Nectarios and are drawn into the lines of his face as they reflect a lifetime of carrying the burden of homeless.

We are pulled into those abandoned houses in Greece, the homes grandparents left abandoned. Many of them still with photographs on the wall of a family member we never knew. Stories we never learnt, distanced by geography and time, overridden by many migrants who embraced a new life in a new country.

The exhibition space set in Glebe is poignant. Glebe is now a gentrified suburb of bustling trending cafes, hipsters, and renovated terraces, all no longer affordable but it wasn’t always. The connection between the exhibition location and subject matter cannot be overlooked, as many of these stories that Alexakis captures started in this, and similar suburbs.

Glebe was a first stop for migrants who bundled hopes of a new life into a suitcase, and left those houses behind. In suburbs like Glebe, inner city and working class, they heaped into boarding house. They soon learnt a new life, not without heartache. They established families and some even fortunes. Their hopes and dreams lived through the successes of the next generation, who carried this migrant experience.

Alexakis has dedicates her upcoming work, ‘Binding Threads’, a collaboration with Helen Vatsikopulos, to that next generation. It features Greek Australians of multiple ages wearing Hellenic traditional costumes using the medium of traditional textiles as an analogy of the binding threads that connect our past and future through a detailed tapestry of stories.

Confronted by a defiant Lex Marinos or Costa Georgiades in a foustanela, your memories unravel into laughter and despondency, as you recall the times, as children of immigrants, we were forced to wear national costumes and parade in the stifling March heat in Sydney streets, hoping no school friends were in the vicinity.

An unspoken Sunday experience was not shared at school the next day, no one knew, or cared about migrant stories, or Greek Independence Day. For our parents and their new community, these days were their hold onto a past, a culture, a nation, and of creating new and living Greek traditions. Their children sadly, often detached themselves from these traditions in their journey for acceptance as Australians.

The images in Binding Threads provoke that reckoning between pride and the desire of acceptance of who we are, comforted by a nostalgia that we are different. Because of who are parents were, these images present an opportunity to be proud of the voices we have infused mainstream Australia with.

It not a showcase of Greek costumes. It represents that journey of acceptance experienced by many next-generation migrants. I want to see this exhibition and work take pride in place in one of our major institutional spaces. Museums and galleries represent the stated policies of inclusion and diversity. Then this exhibition not serves should break into the mainstream and continue to tell the stories of migrants through their own image. If museum and galleries agree to embrace truth telling this exhibition and the work would serve well inclusion and diversity.

Father Nektarios, 2022. Photo: Effy Alexakis

As the sunlight and noise of Glebe flood the gallery, Alexakis moves around detailing the stories to visitors of the image captured. Alexakis’ talent is in how she captures light and shadow in each piece. Each subject is a a story of sombreness and joy, particularly her grandmother’s house, in which she said, “I captured my grandmother’s spirit in that piece.”

Alexakis has captured the spirit of the Greek diaspora in her work. Who we thought we were and who we were and who we might be. Past, present, and future tell the story of struggle, resilience, triumph, and our Greek migrant experience.

Theodora Gianniotis is a member of the International Organising Committee, Australia, for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and the Engagement and Outreach Officer for the Australian Archaeological Institute Athens, University of Sydney.