Painting by George Sfougaras

George Sfougaras, 'Yiayia (grandmother)', acrylic on canvas

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25 June 2018

"I barely knew my maternal Yiayia (grandmother)," says George Sfougaras,  "But she was a significant figure in our family and was often spoken of with reverence after she died. She spoke little and in my young eyes was a mysterious figure in the black clothes of a widow; I can still see her wandering in their enclosed garden, the mulberry trees heavy with fruit."

George Sfougaras was awarded the 2nd Prize in the exhibition with his painting 'Yiayia (Grandmother)' in the Cank Street Gallery Summer Open Exhibition (6 June - 4 August 2018) which attracted submissions from over 200 artists from across the region and included 500 works in the show.

"I set off to try and discover who she was; no one knew her unmarried name," says George. "In the archival subterranean storage area in the Central Library in Heraklion, I found the list of passengers that were 'repatriated' to Greece from the war-torn Aegean coast of Turkey and Anatolia. Her married name was listed there, wrongly recorded as Georgiou when they entered the country, but I knew that she was with her husband and several children and I recognized the names of my mother Anastasia and her two sisters, Stella and Dimitra and three brothers. The children were all young, and she must have faced hardships which I can only imagine. 

"I have had this image of an old, wise woman on my mind since re-discovering my grandmother. The old lady in the picture is painted from older faces that I came across, whilst researching her life and looking for images that reminded me of her. I have no clear photographs of her, but I have a sense that I remember her, somehow. I broadened the forehead to make her resemble my memory of my grandmother, and made the eyes slightly different, one soft and the other harder in expression. In essence, she is a universal grandmother figure, a wise presence.

"In the canvas, there is a bump near the heart. It was a knot in the weave, a peculiarity of the canvas, which I liked. It gave me the opportunity to reinforce it from the back with a piece of canvas in the shape of a cross, before backing the painting with an old inherited family pillowcase. Like all people of her generation, faith was a rich reservoir of strength, tradition and sadly at times, misplaced loyalties. The war that finally displaced the family was informed by the national identities shaped by religious affiliations, as much, if not more as language and place of birth. The small flaw in the canvas, like a wound, has 'healed' and contains something special, a metaphor for life itself. I often hide symbols in my work and this was very much in keeping with that practice.

"Throughout my life, I have been surrounded by strong women who have made homes, sustained families, created businesses and made things happen. I wanted this archetypal grandmother figure to express something of those things and to say something of life, of having lived, suffered, survived and nourished others with her strength and wisdom."