The Barefoot Sculptor of Kastellorizo

Self-taught artist and likeable local character Alexandros Zigouris talks about his own Kastellorizo.


What fragrances fill the air on Kastellorizo? Oregano is certainly one of them. Its aroma is present everywhere on the island. Sage is another; it’s ubiquitous. But above all, it’s the strong scent of history that dominates here. With every step, you’ll come across a grave, a ruined fortress, or an old round stone pit where they used to stomp grapes. All of these can be found up on the mountain, as this is where the island’s treasures are located.

It was walking across Kastellorizo that taught me history; it gave me the incentive to pick up the ancient classics. I prefer to walk barefoot, because the roads are mainly made of cement, and it’s ridiculous to walk on cement in shoes. Or on the pathways. The paths on Kastellorizo are ancient.

 

I first came to this island 41 years ago. My family hails from Gorgomilos in Preveza, in Western Greece. My father traded in livestock and my mother never even went to school. When I was 16, I went to Athens, attended a technical school for machinists, worked in a factory, and became an active member of the workers’ union movement, but I became disillusioned with things and gave up that life.

I started to travel – first, I went to Lesvos, then Kos, and finally, in 1979, I came to Kastellorizo. About 250 people lived on the island then, most of them elderly, and they welcomed me like one of their own. The press at the time was emphasizing the problems the islands close to the Turkish mainland were facing with that country, but when I traveled to these places, I realized that life was going on as normal. An inhabitant of Kastellorizo lived like an Athenian, or like someone from Preveza; there was no fear.

Over the course of all these years, I’ve seen the island change a great deal. After 1991, when the film “Mediterraneo” was released, a lot of Italian tourists began to visit the island. Traditional coffee shops were transformed into café-bars, tourist accommodations were built, and there was a sense of prosperity. But this was followed by envy because, instead of focusing on their own customers, everyone was looking to see if their neighbor had more, or less, business than they did.

It was on Kastellorizo that I got involved with sculpture. I am a self-taught sculptor, because I just couldn’t stay in school – I wanted to get out, into the sun. My works can be grouped into two types: the “mobile” (sculpted in marble) and the “immobile” (compositions on limestone surfaces).

Eight months a year, from April to November, I live on Kastellorizo and sleep in a tent. The fact that it doesn’t rain a lot is very convenient, but whatever the weather, you’re still on the ground. You might go to bed in the evening and wake up even more tired the next morning. Still, I prefer to sleep in a tent than in my workshop, as that would change the entire atmosphere of my workspace. I was fortunate to have been given the old petrol warehouse at the entrance of the port; it was a gift from the municipality. This is where my workshop is housed, open to all, locals and visitors.

When I think about that space now, I picture it steeped in melancholy, shuttered and dark. This year, because of COVID-19, I didn’t go to Kastellorizo at all, and I’ve missed my workshop more than anything else.



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