Wor(th)ship: The Photographic Field Work of Tassos Vrettos
The photographic ‘fieldwork’ of celebrated Athens-born photographer Tassos Vrettos. The images document the makeshift places of worship of migrants and refugees in and around Athens and are presented at the Benaki Museum, now through January 10, 2016.
Each of my visits, even when it wasn’t the first, even if I had been there time and time again, was like opening a door and entering a place of mystery, emotion, reverence and awe. Each space had its own unique identity and aura, from the bright colorful icons of an Indian temple to the barren space of a basement Senegalese mosque, adorned with nothing but a wall clock.” – Tassos Vrettos
The research for Wor(th)ship began in 2012 and today is surprisingly relevant to current international affairs. Through his lens, Tassos Vrettos has stripped away the label “refugee” or “migrant” and reveals only unique individuals who love; laugh, pray and live.
Basements and apartment blocks, garages, playing fields, squares and courtyards, structures made at hoc in temporary or permanent addresses for Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Spiritualists and Christians of multiple ethnic origins (Ethiopian, Afghan, Egyptian, Pakistani, etc.). It is a ‘work in progress’ with the collaboration of these communities’ members. For these images depict not only places where people connect to God, but to home as well.
“At home” is how Vrettos felt during his research. He shared that he developed a personal connection with many of these people who willingly brought him into their sacred places. Indeed, an aura of intimacy and familiarity with these worshippers is present in the exhibit. Visitors are brought into a world that is new, and yet so similar to their own, diversity and plurality coming together in multicultural Athens.
After experiencing Wor(th)ship, one thing is clear: you will never walk in Athens as you did once before. A hidden world has come to life in a dark room at the Benaki Museum, making you wonder where all these places have been hiding.
We had the opportunity to speak with Nadja Argyropoulou, one of the curators of Wor(th)ship, about her experiences with Wor(th)ship.
The exhibition sheds light on an “invisible” world inside the Greek capital. What were your thoughts behind this approach?
Curiosity, attention, concern: As curator of the exhibition of these photographs I had to preserve if not enhance the fine balance achieved by the artist. That is to shed light without exposing or oversimplifying the content. Athens is a city with secrets concealed in the brightest light as the Greek poets have so finely described.
As you were going through the material, what was the most intense moment? Was there a photograph that moved you?
The material was overwhelming as an apocalypse, a discovery and, in a sense, a recovery of what was lost to me of this city’s life and my own awareness. What moved me was not a photograph but the spark generated among photographs, the new space generated by their relationships.
Did you have any primary concerns on how to curate and present the exhibit?
How to make more with less (as far as budget and means are concerned)
How to respect the effort invested time and friendship invested in this work. How to present such a theme (immigrants and refugees) without abusing it and succumbing to the media frenzy surrounding it at the moment.
Was it challenging to adapt the exhibit content to make it suitable for children?
The Benaki Museum has an excellent team, (headed by Mrs. Maria Kristina Giannoulatou), that develops all educational programs. We talked with the team and provided all information and insight on the photographic research and the related curatorial practice. The museum met the challenge of addressing worship and prayer in a creative and thoughtful way.
What sentiments do you expect to evoke to someone who visits the exhibit? Do you think this exhibition could help temper the religious discrimination which has always visible in Greece, but is now more intense after the latest extremist attacks?
Each exhibition addresses different questions and concerns. Yet I believe that every one should engage the visitor and challenge his/her certainties. Evoke questions, fight against the stagnation of knowledge, be of life without actually imitating it. We can only hope that this project and its presentation says something about engagement and friendship by the very way of its making, its collective character and emotional intelligence. Greek society has been in a crisis of identity far deeper than the current economical turmoil. The high percentage of extremist, fascist even elements in Greek life and politics concerns us all and must be addressed politically by each one of us in the measure of our everyday choices and decisions. It is not something abstract but something urgent and crucial.
What conclusions have you come to following your interaction with such a primordial experience of so many different cultures?
Curating is a paradox: a process of empathy and critical engagement at the same time. I followed the development of the project for 3 years, participated in some of Vrettos’s visits to places of worship and various religious practices.
As an art theorist I had to place this work within the larger context of photography and its history and differentiate it through my discussions with the artist. It is also a form of concern and engagement.
Would you consider curating an exhibit related to the current refugee issues?
Through my work I have long ago been persuaded about the value of preserving idiorrythmy, difference; about the importance of recognizing the Other as something of mine, as familiar.
Wor(th)ship at the Benaki Museum through January 10, 2016
Golden Sponsor: Onassis Foundation
Learn more about Tassos Vrettos: http://www.studiovrettos.gr/