Inspired by her six-week stay on the Greek island of Skopelos and her time in Athens, where she investigated cross-cultural symbols of belief, fortune, loss, transition and travel, Australian artist Josephine Fagan is exhibiting her resulting artwork at the Alliance Francaise Eildon Gallery as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
“The exhibition titled ‘Diaspora’ is an installation of over 1,500 ceramic vessels arranged on the gallery floor as a symbolic representation of the perilous journey of Syrian refugees attempting the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece,” says Josephine Fagan in an interview with Neos Kosmos.
Josephine arrived on Skopelos in October 2015 after being accepted to attend a monthly programme at the Skopelos Foundation of the Arts, a not-for-profit organisation established in 1999 by artist Gloria Carr, with an aim to promote the visual, performing and literary arts as well as education in the arts through cultural exchanges, guided by Hellenic history and culture.
Fagan’s initial idea for the residency was to explore inter-cultural symbols of fortune, mythology and history, but while in Athens, the artist visited and discovered a lot of material in the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Byzantine Museum and the Acropolis Museum. Therefore, when she arrived on Skopelos, she decided to immerse herself into the traditional life and explore the island’s community.
“October 2015 was a difficult time for the Greeks that had to face an influx of refugees, especially on the eastern coasts of the Aegean, with 300,000 Syrian refugees arriving continuously after having fled their country seeking a better life,” says Josephine who admits that it was during this time she discovered the Greek people’s generosity and the real meaning behind the Greek word φιλοξενία.
“SkopArt provides artists with studio spaces and arranged accommodation but besides that, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the everyday life and mingle with the locals who loved taking me around to show me their homes, and shared their food and homemade wines, showed me the work they did, took me to their churches, made honey and even hand-dug clay for terracotta with me.
“I immediately felt so welcome and so loved that I did not want to leave the island.”
Josephine says that although she was certainly touched by the locals’ welcome, she was also really moved by the way the broader Greek community treated the refugees.
“It was just an eye-opener to meet and discuss with the residents of a small island that had just been hit and severely damaged by a catastrophic flood as well.
“The locals were so caring and generous towards the refugees, that it was actually moving to watch. During my time there, I didn’t once hear anyone complain about the situation, despite the residents having to deal with their own issues and financial turmoil due to the global financial crisis that impacted Greece tremendously.
“On the contrary, all I saw and heard was everyone’s genuine concern and willingness to give a helping hand and gift their precious time in order to help those people seeking asylum,” says the 39-year-old artist.
“To be perfectly honest, my experience in Greece has made me realise that in Australia we are much stricter in terms of how we treat people in need and I feel that there is a lot we can learn from the Greeks in terms of how they treat other human beings,” says Fagan who graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours) in 1999 and has also completed an Advanced Diploma of Electronic Design and Interactive Media from RMIT University and a Graduate Diploma of Education from the University of Melbourne.
Each of Fagan’s ceramic vessels on display is individually glazed and some contain glass in ultramarine, aquamarine, and crimson.
During the exhibition, the audience is invited to bring with them a precious object to swap with pieces of the artwork, taking Fagan’s artwork home.
“Through this exchange, the vessels are dispersed throughout our community in a gesture of recognition for the precious lives lost and support for those seeking safe passage to a better life, whilst the colours I have chosen represent what – according to Greek tradition – is known as mati, the good energy that protects from evil.”
According to the artist, ‘Diaspora’ is an installation that invites the Melbourne community to acknowledge the plight of these dispossessed individuals.
“I am certainly not trying to make a political statement but a humane statement that we should all remember to help each other in time of need.”
‘Diaspora’ is now on until Saturday 30 September at Alliance Francaise, Eildon Gallery, 51 Grey St, St Kilda, VIC. The exhibition is free. See melbournefringe.com.au/event/diaspora/