National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens

Vlassis Caniaris



The work is displayed as part of the permanent exhibition


6 human figures, 9 suitcases, 1 cage, a tar paper base and a hopscotch chalk drawing
155 x 440 x 600 cm
Purchased in 2000
Inv. No. 3/2000

As from the late 1950s, Vlassis Caniaris, one of the most important artists in Greek post-war art, turned towards a “sociology of the real”, exploring the function of the work of art as social testimony. Starting off with the intention to “re-create the image as well as the impression of the walls of occupied Athens”, Vlassis Caniaris began the series of works entitled Homage to the Walls of Athens 1941–19… in 1959. The works were produced through a successive gestural treatment of thick layers of plaster, cloth, paper, palimpsests, engravings, destructions and erasures, with the objective to condense and preserve the memory of the urban public space as it had been shaped during one of the most dramatic periods of Greek history. As part of this process, Caniaris appropriated and transcribed —using the colour red— fragments of the public discourse on resistance and liberation struggle, as these appeared in the form of slogans on the walls of Athens during the German occupation, without, however, avoiding making reference to his post-Civil War times. The letter E, which can be made out in the work, may stand for the first letter of resistance groups such as EAM (National Liberation Front), EPON (United Pan-Hellenic Organization of Youth), and ELAS (The Greek People’s Liberation Army) or it could simply stand for Eleftheria (Freedom). The thematic and morphological orientation to the real was reinforced in Caniaris’ following works, which included amputated dummies and plaster body parts and objects. As from the late 1950s, he associated his use of plaster with “a particular casting that all Greeks had to endure, following the 1967 military coup”. After Caniaris’ exhibition at New Gallery in 1969, the works of this series, which he had created in Paris, in 1970, works such as Aspects of racism II, became —owing to their directly referential character— symbols of contestation and of the liberating function of art in the face of extreme deprivation of freedom and political oppression. Vlassis Caniaris’ works Coexistence and Hopscotch were created as part of the Immigrants series (1971–1976), a body of works developed initially in Paris and later in Berlin with the support of DAAD. They were presented in a travelling exhibition titled Gastarbeiter- Fremdarbeiter (Guest Workers-Foreign Workers) in Germany and England during the years 1975 and 1976. The term Gastarbeiter was used to describe the phenomenon of mass immigration of cheap unskilled labour force from the European South to Central Europe in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, as part of the international agreements for the post-war industrial restructuring. Hopscotch, one of the most important works of this series, is an environment consisting of headless dummies standing around a hopscotch court, where, instead of numbers written in chalk, words allude to the mechanisms of immigration policy and the stages of integration. Through a process of scientific field research, Caniaris focused on diverse stories, voices, gestures, and everyday objects relating to the working and living conditions of “guest workers”, reflecting aspects of the unstable reality of territorial displacement, social exclusion, national identity, and contested citizenship.
Tina Pandi, text from the permanent exhibition guide ENTER EMST : Collection & History, A short guide, 2020

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