Reports 2023

  • The inaugural event of LHS/ΣΛ took place on July 3-6, 2023 under the auspices of the Global Center in Athens and was primarily supported by a Joint Projects grant of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL), administered by Stathis Gourgouris on behalf of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS). Additional funds were granted from Columbia’s Program in Hellenic Studies, the Modern Greek Studies Association, and the Prefecture of Southern Aegean in Greece.

    The seminars would not have been possible without the continuous hands-on involvement of the Center for Culture, Education, and Development of Leros “Artemis”, which provided essential logistical support, help with graphic design and advertising on the island, guided visits to the historical sites, and, most importantly, hospitality and active involvement in the concluding workshop (see below). Additional local support was provided by the General State Archives, Local Historical Archive of Leros; and the National Tourist Organization of Greece.

    The Seminars brought together scholars, visual and musical artists, architects, psychiatrists, former political exiles to the island, legal activists, education specialists, from Columbia (ICLS, Hellenic Studies, Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, Law School, Heyman Center, Justice in Education Initiative/Justice Forum), UCLA, Rhode Island School of Design, Florida Atlantic University, University of Thessaly, and Panteion University in Greece, as well as graduate students from Columbia, Florida Atlantic University, and UCLA. Graduate students from universities in Athens, Volos, and Thessaloniki, along with Greek colleagues from a number of institutions in Greece and abroad, as well as members of the local population in Leros, attended the events throughout and participated in the discussions.

    The first two days of round table discussions addressed the following topics: Legalities and Illegalities; Confinement and the Commons; Sexualities and Boundaries; Borders and Crossings; Catastrophic Environments; and Infrastructures, Textures, and Architectures. The third day was dedicated entirely to practical and educational workshops addressing the topics: Confined Education; Confined Arts; and Anti-Catastrophic Environments. The day concluded with a musical evening workshop on the innovative capacities of tradition, which was conducted by the celebrated Greek-Cypriot artist Alkinoos Ioannidis, along with the local musicians of “Artemis”—many of them young apprentices.

    We flanked the seminars with guided visits to spaces of particular importance and dense history that contextualize the thematics of the seminars. Guided by Prof. Nota Pantzou (Dept. of Cultural Preservation, University of the Peloponnese) in collaboration with the Museum’s Director, Harilaos Sismanis, we conducted a visit to the Exile Museum “Ai Stratis” in Athens. The museum houses materials from the period of political imprisonment and exile 1947- 1953, along with unique artworks by many of the famous poets and artists exiled during that period. While on Leros, we reserved two separate days at the beginning and after the end of the events to visit the island’s unique historical sites. All the speakers participated in extensive guided tours of the Museum of the Battle of Leros; with local historian Franko DiPierro we visited the infamous Leros psychiatric hospital (1957-1995) and the youth rehabilitation camp “Royal Vocational Schools” (1947-1963); Neni Panourgiá guided the visit to the camps of exiled political prisoners at Lakki and Partheni (1967-74); and Penelope Petsini led the tour of the church of Agia Kioura, in Partheni, a famous site of modernist hagiography painted by exiled political prisoner artists.

    The seminars and workshops are structured explicitly so as to foster conversation and collaborative questioning of established beliefs around a number of topics that are urgent in today’s world: problems of democracy; crossing of borders; environmental catastrophe; institutions of confinement; migration and refugee conditions; neglected architectural legacies; problems in mental health and therapy. Essential in our discussions is the task of entwining worldwide problems of the human with local and regional concerns. A key term that emerged from our discussions, especially from the standpoint of our international visitors, was the identification and exploration of “Leros modes of knowledge”—what the histories and present-day realities of the island foreground in the midst of broader transcultural and indeed planetary concerns.

    At the same time, an essential understanding that was built into the seminar structure was the intersection of scholarly methods and research practices with artistic-performative and practical-pedagogical methods and modes of knowledge. This intersection yielded exhilarating possibilities that surpassed our expectations and will continue to remain the intellectual ground of the seminar structure.
  • What were some of the key highlights or takeaways from the discussions and workshops?
    • The seminars staged specific encounters between people from different backgrounds and situations (not all scholars, but also artists, activists, architects, psychiatrists, etc.), who came together on specific topics as listed. To get an idea of the achievements of each of the participants in their respective domains, please click on the names here. The conversations were exploratory in collaborative ways. In the end, we developed a common language – a set of terms and agreed-upon questions that we carry forward into next year’s events. We are currently in discussions with a university press about setting a series of bilingual editions of the seminars. We also had a day of three workshops that involved hands-on participation from everyone in the room: specifically, on the creative arts under conditions of incarceration and confinement (two different situations: political prisoners in Greece; imprisoned populations in NYC); on alternative techniques and practices of human interaction with natural environments; on the entwinement of tradition and innovation in music.
  • What were the practical applications or real-world implications from the education workshop discussions?
    • The workshop experiences produced, first of all, real hands-on knowledge about situations that for most people are unknown. They educated us historically, but also addressed our present conditions, both locally on the island and its region, as well as internationally. A sort of comparative understanding of conditions of incarceration and confinement across different zones of time, space, and culture through the experience of making art under conditions of restriction is a perfect example. Another invaluable lesson came out in the concluding workshop that included instruction and a unique collaborative musical performance between the students of the local cultural organization “ARTEMIS” and their musician teachers with Alkinoos Ioannidis, one of the three pre-eminent singers and musicians in Greece right now with an international career that spans three decades. The lesson from this collaboration was how traditional culture is always based on some form of innovation and cross-pollination, and always involves multiplicities and intersections, so that it is never monolithic and never simply passed on to the next generations. Instead, it is created, again and anew, along the lines of already established motifs. From the remarks of the non-Greek participants, it became clear that this lesson was recognizable and applicable across different cultural histories and experiences.
  • How did the local community get involved and what was their perspective?
    • The Center for Culture, Education, and Development of Leros “Artemis,” which is the local educational and cultural association in Leros, was a partner in the organization of events throughout, as well as being our guide to the historical sites of the island. Young musicians from Leros who train at “Artemis” were involved directly in the last workshop/ performance. A number of locals were participants from the audience in every seminar. Panourgiá/Gourgouris, as main Columbia faculty organizers, were interviewed for three different national media venues, twice on the radio and once for a half hour spot by the regional television station. All interviews were broadcast nationally. The President of “Artemis”, Antonis Ntallaris, wrote that, as far as the local society is concerned, the Seminars provided access to new ways of learning which are of utmost importance to the children and youths of this isolated and border island. In addition, he argued, the Seminars achieved a purging from the burden that the century-old history of confinement has bequeathed the islanders as they were growing up in a place that the Greek state had turned into one large penal colony (using the Italian colonial infrastructure as spaces of imprisonment, enclosure and mental health confinement). The significance of this specific point is utterly transformative—it is the basis on which we build toward the future. By all accounts, related privately and made public in the media, the local community was enthusiastic about the seminars and proud that these took place on the island, bringing both prestige and international attention to the history of the island, its people and its places. There is avowed eagerness that these events become ensconced in the local culture as annual occurrences.

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