Phillip George and Margarita Georgiadis: Gaps in the Migrant Consciousness

An exhibition curated by well-known Australian documentary photographer Effy Alexakis and historian Leonard Janiszewski, marking the anniversary of the last two hundred years since Greek Independence was gained in 1821, opens on 11 January at the New South Wales Parliament House. Margarita Georgiadis’s falling women and children, and Phillip George’s photomedia prints of descending debris, both provoke histories for 'The Apotheosis' exhibition.

Alexakis and Janiszewski have made an interesting choice; two senior and respected Australian artists – of Greek and Egyptian heritage, born in Sydney, but with extensive local and international art experiences — paired together for the very first time in an exhibition of recent works and in a building for Democracy. For this exhibition they have chosen key works by both artists. 

Georgiadis’s and George’s works immediately grasp attention  ̶  as their works contrast to each other and to Parliament’s austere Georgian nineteenth century building. George’s fourteen large bold prints, of golden yellows and ultramarine and cobalt blues with rippling liquid type, glow against Georgiadis’s earthy palette and forceful brush strokes. 

There are a few ways to observe ‘The Apotheosis.’ As Greece achieved its independence, the NSW parliament was being built. Two hundred years of Greek sovereignty, despite some bumps like the Nazi occupation, is a triumph. The NSW Parliament has sustained democracy in the State.  But don’t expect an exhibition that is some kind of symbolic flag raising on the Parthenon. These are generational reflections on Greekness, and transmigration memories.  

For a long time Phillip George’s practice has focused on concepts of contrivance and the handmade. He has invested in creating links between the complexities that exist between East and West, and challenging those boundaries. Regular visits to the Arab and Mediterranean regions have been necessary to his work. Another key to his work is the junction between photography and media. With these art forms he enjoys stimulating our perceptions — is it an analog photograph or a print rearranged with digital programs, or both? Through his masterful control of these forms he is able seamlessly to take the difficult sociocultural politics into abstract realms that are so everyday, but fuelled with nourishing esoteric meaning.

In his recent work Acheiropoieta #2, 2019 (from his ‘Drawing in Water’ series), which roughly translates to ‘That which is made without the intervention of the human hand,’ is a notion that has fascinated George for a while. His images take us to the ancient but ongoing belief that the icon painter and their paintings are an expression of Divine intervention. The image development from an analog camera, through a light and chemical process creates this magical link — simultaneously aligning the Byzantine culture, enmeshed with the Christology of the icon painting, and Greekness — to the singular perspective of secular and industrial Western culture.  

George also makes the point that the essential idea of acheiropoieta predates photography by more than a thousand years.  George is making works with obvious origins beyond Australian shores, reflecting Greekness with titles like Acheiropoieta #2, or Hagia-Sophia, 2021, while making all the works in Australia, using Australian coastal waters and then adding his accumulated debris: cups, jewellery etcetera with a timed camera placed underwater to avoid the use of his hands. For those unfamiliar with the historiography of icon painting and photography, George’s work does require some context. The works are cerebral. This body of works presents as digitally rendered prints, which challenges the tired perspective of Australian artists as some type of human copier of other artists’ ideas, collapsing the perception that Australians don’t travel, have no links beyond these shores, and only experience art through printed copy.  

Georgiadis’s eighteen expressive figurative paintings (mostly from 2021) of female figures descending are inspired by the story of The Dance of Zalongo. In late 1803, sixty Souliot women in Epirus, the north-western region of Greece, threw themselves and their children off a cliff, rather than be captured by the Ottomans. Their actions have been immortalised in Modern Greek literature, song and dance, to build a young nation’s national pride and unity. 

In Georgiadis’s paintings, the groupings of the figures falling, and the subdued earthy tones with their bold expressive marks, form a repetitive, connective sequence of hopelessness. These qualities do not recreate the State’s heroic narrative of Souliot women and children: they emphasise human qualities of integrity and courage. They feel intimate. It is hard to recognise where Georgiadis’s sympathies rest; they evoke questions of the power of states and their willingness to trade the displacement of people, and to replace diversity with uniformity. They also embody a fading connection to her Greekness. This loss is experienced through the memories of others. In all these paintings, melancholy is never ending. What particularly strikes me about Georgiadis’s ‘The Dance of Zalongo’ series is that death is the eventuality of all life, and the opportunity these paintings provide for their descendants to present their compassion, and for it to be recognised as a new Greek narrative for the next two hundred years at least. 

The Apotheosis
11 January – 3 February 2022
New South Wales Parliament House, Sydney

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