THE ROAD TO CIVILIZATION
By Loukia Richards
Eleusis archaeological site. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.
Respect for nature, sharing resources, accepting one's own mortality, humility, community, equality, sublimation, civilization, peace. These words all describe key ideas Eleusis (modern Greek: Elefsina) could still teach us today.
Archaeologist George E. Mylonas, the ancient site’s excavator, describes how the truth was revealed by the Eleusinian Mysteries to the initiates through what we would call performance, poetry recitations, and exhibitions of objects! We can only speculate which sacred objects revealed the secret of immortality in the then-known world which, already in Antiquity, was maddened by crisis, conflict, war, inequality, injustice.
Art can build bridges connecting the present to the past and to the future.
Seven top jewelry artists chose an object to highlight aspects of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Art institutions such as the reputable Danner Foundation could be the present-day hierophants preserving the social memory of our era while contributing to peace by channeling our passions towards beauty and harmony.
"Labyrinth", 2013. Tapestry (detail) stitched by Loukia Richards and Stitchathon participants. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.
About ten years ago, I performed a stitching marathon, Stitchathon, together with descendants of former enemies. The event was held in a small German town by the border with the Netherlands and made me realize that art can support peace talks. Everybody in the group became very emotional, but unspoken stories were told, silence and suppressed rage were broken.
The meeting in Ahaus, Westfalia, a region famous for the treaties that ended two religious wars in the seventeenth century, taught me that the past stays with us, controls us, dictates us our destiny -- until we break the spell through catharsis.
In his Poetics, Artistotle, describes how drama triggers empathy, awe, fear, and mercy, leading viewers to purification and spiritual renewal. Ancient Greeks used theater as a means of teaching citizens and shaping common values and responsibilities as well as to promote collective healing. Ancient Greek theater is nowadays edited, rewritten, arbitrarily re-arranged, and its therapeutic effect on the human soul and politics is ignored.
When we started collecting material for this SMCK issue last summer, we were deeply moved by the new Armenian tragedy and ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh. Objects not only reveal the truth, but they can also be silent witnesses of crimes against humanity and cultural heritage expropriation. Armenian rugs speak volumes about the first Christian nation and its unique culture to everyone willing to learn how to decipher them.
The Sacred Way (Hiera Odos) from Athens to Eleusis. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.
While thinking of the Editorial, I received an email from Dana Hakim, an artist I became acquainted with during her admirable art initiative I Care A Lot to promote peace in the Middle East in the early 2010s: For decades we have been taking part in exhibitions and contributing to our field and not a single body, person, gallery has publicly sent condolences to us and to our families.
The pogrom of 7 October against Israeli and foreign citizens, young and old, peace-loving rave-party goers and non-Jewish land workers, even against pets owned by the victims, has similar features with the atrocities Nazis committed in occupied Europe during World War II.
A Middle East inferno threatens to engulf us, and we will not prevent it as long as we opt for the road to destruction instead of the road to Eleusis.
As outsiders to the regional conflict, but as Europeans bound to Jewish destiny, we stand for Palestinian Arabs’ right to self determination and for the right of Israelis to live in peace.
We need to read more history more often; to double-check news sources, to debate but with respect for the other person's views. It is also time to discuss how we will stop extremists from spreading hate and ugliness even inside the artist community and academia.
Blessing of the bread in Elefsina. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.