24
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Exhibition: ‘Girls In Our Town: Women in the Shadow of ‘The Magnificent Empire’, Florina Prefecture & Region, Macedonia Greece 1900-1917, 2017′ at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th July – 27th July 2017

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954) 'Children Playing' 2017 (detail)

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954)
Children Playing (detail)
2017
Digital prints on metallic silver acrylic
39 x 163cm

 

 

Conquering orientalism

A beautiful, sensitive, sensual even, exhibition by the wonderful Elizabeth Gertsakis at William Mora Galleries. The artist forms a living relationship with early images of women and children from the Prefecture of Florina – mostly taken from that most vernacular form of photograph, the postcard – something that was sold as souvenir to the tourist trade, or posted to loved ones overseas.

Gertsakis identifies with their ethnicities and beliefs and physical appearances, transmuting their identities and narratives by printing these ephemeral objects on steel, that most durable of substances, which makes them shine under the gallery lights. The photographs both transcend time and transcend the physicality of the actual photograph… making their hidden histories a precious, and contemporary, thing. Like their protagonists, the steel makes the images and the people in them hardy enough to survive the vicissitudes thrust upon these communal people.

Gertsakis observes, “My voice is in placing myself between the present and the past as it has been generated by the cameras of others.” Beautifully enunciated. With her deep familial roots in the area – one that endured nearly five hundred years of Islamic rule and culture, as well as multiple ethnic communities and religions; Christian Greeks, Slavs, Bulgarians, Jews, Turkic and Albanian Moslems, Vlachs and Gypsies – Gertsakis creates witness and testament to her own communal familial past.

The rare and unique costumes come from the artists personal collection and when I was in the gallery space there seemed to be this electricity flowing between the images and the cloth. It was almost as though the people in the photographs were dancing again, were speaking to us today of their trials and tribulations, of their energy to survive the turmoil of the first decades of the 20th century.

Elizabeth is first generation… her father and grandfather and grandmothers… were those people…. exactly as they appear. They survived the yoke of the oppressor and conquered orientalism. These are their valuable, inspiring stories, beautifully told.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to William Mora Galleries and Elizabeth Gertsakis for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and Elizabeth Gertsakis

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Girls In Our Town: Women in the Shadow of 'The Magnificent Empire' Florina Prefecture & Region, Macedonia Greece 1900-1917, 2017' by Elizabeth Gertsakis at William Mora Galleries, Richmond

 

Installation view of the exhibition Girls In Our Town: Women in the Shadow of ‘The Magnificent Empire’ Florina Prefecture & Region, Macedonia Greece 1900-1917, 2017 by Elizabeth Gertsakis at William Mora Galleries, Richmond
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954) 'Florina' 2017

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954)
Florina
2017
Digital prints on metallic silver acrylic
39 x 174cm

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954) 'Dancing Macedonian Girls' 2017

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954)
Dancing Macedonian Girls
2017
Digital prints on metallic silver acrylic
39 x 136cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Girls In Our Town: Women in the Shadow of 'The Magnificent Empire' Florina Prefecture & Region, Macedonia Greece 1900-1917, 2017' by Elizabeth Gertsakis at William Mora Galleries, Richmond

 

Installation view of the exhibition Girls In Our Town: Women in the Shadow of ‘The Magnificent Empire’ Florina Prefecture & Region, Macedonia Greece 1900-1917, 2017 by Elizabeth Gertsakis at William Mora Galleries, Richmond
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Girls In Our Town: Women in the Shadow of 'The Magnificent Empire' Florina Prefecture & Region, Macedonia Greece 1900-1917, 2017' by Elizabeth Gertsakis at William Mora Galleries, Richmond

 

Installation view of the exhibition Girls In Our Town: Women in the Shadow of ‘The Magnificent Empire’ Florina Prefecture & Region, Macedonia Greece 1900-1917, 2017 by Elizabeth Gertsakis at William Mora Galleries, Richmond
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

I was born in the town of Florina, Macedonia, Greece. This town is in the top north western part of Greece adjacent to Albania, FYROM and Bulgaria. My family migrated to Australia in 1954 and I was educated in Australia

Florina was an oriental (ανατολικό) town belonging to the Ottoman Empire which controlled Greece from 1453 to 1922; the people of Florina were a mesh of multiple ethnic communities and religions; Christian Greeks, Slavs, Bulgarians, Jews, Turkic and Albanian Moslems, Vlachs and Gypsies. These religious groups lived and worked together in close proximity. Florina was a typical Balkan town in the later stages of the decline of Ottoman rule in the Balkans.

From 1903-1918, and including World War One (1914) and the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 the entire northern territories of the Graeco-Balkan Peninsula (including Serbia) suffered great population losses through wars, cataclysmic population displacements (ethnic cleansing) and population exchanges. Refugee diaspora was moving in all directions, across from east to west in both directions. This vast political re-construction of Europe and the Balkans may have initially started from wars of revolutionary independence from the Ottomans, and subsequent internal Balkan expansionist claims to new territory, but it was the conflagration of the First World War that irreversibly rocked its cultural foundations for the future, beyond any political value in the creation of new national states in the Balkans and Asia Minor.

This history of diaspora and displacement laid down a new pattern for the twentieth century and into the twenty first century; a set of historical problems that had and continue to have irreversible impact on the function of community memory in relation to identity experienced by each succeeding wave of refugees and migrants who abandon everything in the simple need to escape and to survive.

I have chosen to highlight the consequences of cultural uprooting on memory and identity through the images of women from Florina, taken by various known and unknown photographers in the period from 1900-1918. These photographs were taken by people who may have had commercial or political intentions in the first instance but the resulting image does not always remain in the control of its original maker. Gender is important in this exhibition because it has been traditionally the female that carries the symbolic function of ritual and memory in relation to culture and identity, and ultimately, the idea and meaning of where belonging and home is. In other words the responsibility falls on the refugee and migrant woman if there is any question or ambivalence or sense of lack. This responsibility remains a constant memorial and cognitive challenge to the psyche of the female survivor, refugee and migrant.

I have used archival photographic images and reconfigured them to create a narrative representing difference. They have been extracted from their solitary sources from commercial photography, press photography and the archives of the Photographic Section of the French Army (Campaign d’Orient 1916-1918).

The installations invite entry into unknown individual histories and emphasis shared past communal lives even though there were multiple political differences and historical consequences. The original images were the result of various kinds of personal and spatial exploitation, both desired and undesired. Photography as a commercial technology played a profound role in the identification and changing of the global meaning of identity that resulted from death during war, disruption and the re-allocation of populations.

Today this usage of images of diaspora continues in the same way via 24/7 news and the internet. I feel it is important to examine female representation during times of crisis and trauma. My desire is that this exhibition encourages multiple narratives and a focus on recognition and justice for minorities internationally and in Australia, as well as the recognition and diversity of individual authenticity. Within the stereotype I look for authenticity, not for any kind of ethnic purity; and I know this is the case both within multicultural as well as the liberal concerns for justice and human rights issues in regard to minorities in contemporary art. As a woman it is the moment when, through my life in art, history and photography, that I accepted the bequest of my own historically difficult position as being the reality of my own identity.

Elizabeth Gertsakis, July 2017

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954) 'Lerinki' 2017

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954)
Lerinki
2017
Digital prints on metallic silver acrylic
39 x 72cm

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954) 'Beautiful Macedonians' 2017

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954)
Beautiful Macedonians
2017
Digital prints on metallic silver acrylic
39 x 68cm

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954) 'Noli Me Tangere' (Don't Touch Me) 2017

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis (Australian, b. 1954)
Noli Me Tangere (Don’t Touch Me)
2017
Digital prints on metallic silver acrylic
60 x 91cm

 

 

William Mora Galleries
60 Tanner St, Richmond VIC 3121, Australia
Phone: +61 3 9429 1199

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 4pm or by appointment

William Mora Galleries website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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