Scent of a woman at Theocharakis Foundation

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It was a gloomy Monday morning. The streets were bustling and the Christmas decorations were full force in Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, where I joined some 25 students on a tour of an exhibition that’s both a breath of fresh air and a highly enriching artistic experience. Miss Karakourti, the exhibition’s curator narrated us the story of women in greek painting in an hour and a half. She gave us valuable insight into the history of greek painting from the 19th to the 21st century and commented on most of the paintings with a fresh approach.

The exhibition spans in the Foundation’s building. The first floor is by far the most interesting one, with paintings from the 20th century and the most progressive approach to painting taking over the traditionalists that dominate the previous floors. Don’t worry, I won’t give you a lot of spoilers, you’ll have to see it for yourself.

But what I can and will say, is that Scent of a woman is rich with works from painters such as Nikolaos and Nikiforos Lytras, Georgios Iakovidis, as well as contemporary painters such as Christos Mpokoros. However, the lack of paintings created by women for women is evident. It’s only Thaleia – Flora Karavia, Sofia Laskaridou and Flora Pappa that break the rule. That was not a choice of the curator but rather, an inevitable consequence of the social circumstances and the intellectual climate of the Greek Revolution. After centuries under the Ottoman Empire, Greece was stuck at the East side of things, mentality wise; to put it lightly. Women do not attend university, they don’t go to school and they don’t exist as citizens. They are born to be obedient housewives, always eager to please their husbands.

This is portrayed in the works featured in the exhibition. You can see a woman standing in the middle of a kitchen, after being beaten by her husband for the very first time and another playing with her child while doing housework. Only a small number of the portraits painted during the late 19th and early 20th century features women reading letters or books. The sole presence of a book in the hands of the woman in a painting should be considered revolutionary. Miss Karakourti -Orfanopoulou eloquently explained us that a woman reading at that time was an exception to the rule of illiteracy that suffocated women in their family lives. Women in the exhibition are often reduced to being admired and viewed as sexual objects. The notion of feminine strength is something that is only evident on the first floor, that is full of paintings from the 20th century and thus, is more close to our times.

This exhibition can be a good chance for introspection, if you come with an open mind. Miss Karakourti – Orfanopoulou closed an engrossing tour by encouraging us not to shy away from the hard questions but rather, let ourselves free so that we can see what the exhibition can teach us about ourselves and our behavior as women (and men). Scent of a woman in greek painting could not come at a more fitting time. Women’s rights, sexual abuse and consent have been in the forefront of the conversation around gender equality in the past year. Choosing to curate paintings of women is a bold statement at this end of the year exhibition for both the Theocharakis Foundation and the National Gallery. And this one is definitely a must.

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