The Right to Breathe
Through October 7, 2021
By WM, September 2021
Following her stint as Andrew W. Mellon curator for the Performa 15 Biennial, curator Dr. Sozita Goudonna launched the non-profit Greece in USA to help facilitate strong cultural exchanges between Greek and Cypriot artists and her American colleagues.
For their inaugural show, Greece in USA opened a two-part hybrid virtual and in-person exhibition highlighting over 100 artists partnering long-term with the organization. Below we discuss with Dr. Goudonna her thought process behind founding the non-profit and what upcoming programming to look out for. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Whitehot: Could you tell us a little more about how you came about Greece in USA and how you came about founding the organization?
SOZITA GOUDOUNA: Greece in USA was founded during Spring 2020. However, there is a strong history behind this initiative. The Greek art scene has only evolved into a more international scene recently owing to the broader interest of non-Greeks in Athens. You are probably aware of the expression “Athens is the new Berlin. The expression, in spite of its predictability, shows a promise despite the lack of a systemic and long-term cultural governmental policy for contemporary art, or perhaps owing to this lack.
Working closely with Raymond Pettibon and David Zwirner, Regen Projects, Sadie Coles, I am trying to support Greek artists through the networks that I have access to. Given that few Greek galleries manage to have access to the international art fairs, due to the logistics and lack of accessibility, I consider it vital for these artists to receive more support from European networks to promote their work abroad. “Greece in USA” with its modest means, but with a strong cultural capital, is trying to contribute to these efforts.
WM: What kind of programming are you planning for the future of Greece in USA?
SG: Greece in USA’s programming draws from my experience as an Andrew W. Mellon curator of the New York Performa Biennial. As a Performa curator, I realized that Greek and Cypriot artists, like Maria Hassabi, were able to have a strong cultural exchange with American colleagues and fellow curators seemed interested in learning more about the contemporary Greek scene. An organization like Greece in USA can be a catalyst for promoting the work of contemporary Greek artists abroad.
In the future, we will be focusing on integrated artistic commissions in location driven contexts, including New York and other metropolitan centers, and group exhibitions that engage Greek artists with American and international issues and concerns. More specifically, we aim to present Greek – South African artist Penny Siopis and her piece “Welcome Visitors!” with the participation of New York based Jazz musicians. The project is based on the story of the jazz tune “Skokiaan” composed in 1947 by the Zimbabwean musician August Musarurwa, which was famously covered by Louis Armstrong in 1954. Mixing archival material from Armstrong’s tour of Southern Africa in 1960 with anonymous home-movie footage, the film associates the migration of the melody with Zulu imagery, and the connections between Southern Africa and the American south.
We also plan to present a new opera project composed by the young Greek artist Orestis Papaioannou with a libretto by Alekos Lountzis and co-author in English, Orfeas Apergis entitled “The Fall of the House of Commons” to be performed at the house of Poe in Philadelphia. The project connects the uniqueness of Poe’s emblematic House with the commonest everyday house and aspires to combine musical idioms ranging from classic operatic melodrama to the eclectic re-assemblages typical of postmodern music.
Greece in USA also intends to present American artists in Athens. This September, we’re partnering with the Municipal Theater of Pireaus to present Andres Serrano project “Torture” and John Akomfrah’s “The Airport,” a project that was filmed at the old airport of Athens. Set in the landscape of Southern Greece and an abandoned airfield near Athens, the film recalls the work of two filmmaking greats: Stanley Kubrick and Theo Angelopoulos. Accompanied by a soundtrack composed by John Akomfrah, the film’s narrative weaves together cinematic, literary, philosophical, and artistic traditions, where spaces of human ruin and natural beauty abound. Serrano’s exhibition addresses the story of torture, a tale as old as the story of the world itself. While torture was declared unacceptable by the Geneva Convention in 1949 and subsequently prohibited by the United Nations Convention against Torture, the fact remains that at least 81 world governments currently practice torture illegally, but at times, openly.
WM: An extensive number of artists are listed on your website. How do you plan on engaging your roster of artists?
SG: We plan to engage with all these artists in our forthcoming exhibitions and live programs. We also plan to invite curators and support the production of their projects. We are currently in dialogue with institutions in New York, Boston, LA and Houston for the presentation of “Greece in USA” projects.
WM: Greece in USA recently launched the second iteration of its 2-part inaugural exhibition with the participation of 100 Greek artists, titled “The Right to Breathe” (through October 7). It can be viewed at undercurrent.nyc and is in dialogue with “The Right to Silence?” at Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery, John Jay School of Criminal Justice (CUNY). Could you tell us about these exhibition?
SG: Teaching at CUNY, I was interested in the American aspects of public education which is so different to the European. I think CUNY is a fascinating educational apparatus and I was amazed by my students who were so different from NYU. Students who work as night guards or in other very tough professions and who are struggling to survive and study. This gave meaning to my role as a professor. Thus, CUNY and most importantly the confinement we were experiencing during the pandemic inspired me to think about incarceration in a way that I hadn’t before, especially as a European. We don’t have private prisons and the justice system is very different.
I think it is significant that Greek artists are invited to respond to issues that they haven’t really reflected upon due to the geographical and political contexts that they haven’t experienced. African American artists would consider these issues in an entirely different manner and this is I think the contribution of these exhibitions, to introduce complexities and asymmetric knowledge or to provide versions of “uncomfortable knowledge” on how artists from the “periphery” can make sense of the complexity of the social sphere in a global context and without aestheticizing political tensions.
WM: How do you feel about virtual exhibitions? Could you explain the benefits of hosting digital projects, especially one aimed at the internationalization of Greek Culture in the USA?
SG: I really believe in the potentiality of the medium and I guess we were finally able to overcome the medium specificity as it was critically conceived during high-modernism. Thus, I believe the virtual world will be or is already our own expanded field. Regarding Greece in USA, due to the logistics and minimum funding, the virtual realm provided a great opportunity for the launch of the organization and for the possibility to show the artists that we select without pragmatic restrictions. However, we now plan to focus mostly on “physical” exhibitions and projects. WM