The city of Athens boasts a colorful, and meaningful, street art scene. Street art tours bring visitors to the city on walks to view some of the best of it not simply because there’s so much to see by so many great artists, but because a lot of it effectively helps tell the story of Athens.
A new mural by Aristeidis Lappas close to Omonia Square (58, Panepistimiou Street), which was inaugurated this month, does just this. Entitled “She Who Protects,” it depicts the goddess Athena in a cheerful contemporary interpretation; Athena appears fully armed with her spear and shield, as we’re used to seeing her, but in brightly colored, patterned clothing against a bubblegum pink backdrop. Commissioned and produced by the Onassis Foundation, the piece is a tribute to diversity, meant to celebrate the diverse cultural roots of today’s Athenians.
Born in Athens, the emerging visual artist chose to feature the city’s protector after realizing, through research on the Greek goddesses, that while she is the ultimate local, she actually has multicultural roots, as versions of her appear in several ancient cultures in Neolithic Europe, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.
“The untethered forms and bright colors of the composition suggest a kids’ drawing, while the patterns on her armor allude to African fabrics and traditional women’s costumes from the Balkans. The colorful goddess of Lappas reflects the nomadic culture and the multiculturalism we encounter in the neighborhoods of the Athenian center,” the Onassis Foundation states.
Expressing our appreciation for the piece to Lappas, he shares that the piece took him a year to develop, from idea to reveal:
Tell us about the mural. How was it painted and how long did it take?
It took about four months to reach the final decision of the design. It was a tricky internal dialog trying to figure out which forms would work best with the wall and after this was decided the colors took even more time and tinkering.
I was very honored when Onassis Stegi approached me with this project and it was amazing working with them from start to finish. They have contributed a great deal establishing a connection between the public space and art and I am very grateful to be a part of this dialog. Gladly through this process I was working closely with UrbanAct who was the team that materialized the design and triumphantly brought it to life. Most the decisions were made prior to painting so when it came to actually manifesting it on the wall it only took a week, despite its humongous size.
How does the Goddess Athena represent the Greek capital today – who is she in today’s Athens?
A symbol is just a vessel for meaning, it’s the people that it’s surrounded by that give it value. In that sense I felt that the image of the goddess, the white marble statue on top of the column, did not characterize its people any more. The reason I chose to paint this symbol to connect two parts of a broken identity, the past and the present. This iteration of the goddess is only one perspective of how she could exist today, yet I’m hoping that some people can relate to it and that it makes space for them to claim the symbol and express it as their own.
We read that your choice of colors was inspired by traditional clothing from various parts of the world. This month is Pride month – did that inspire the use of colors as well?
The fact that Pride happened just a week after the completion of the mural was completely unplanned yet such a wonderful coincidence! I was so, so happy that it happened that way and somehow, I think it was meant to be.
Yes, the patterns of Athena’s spear, shield and skirt are inspired by textiles found from various cultures. As for the colors, they are just the colors that express me and how I would like to see the world. They are also a reclaiming of color on archeological sculptures as we know they were actually painted and not white.
The piece is about acknowledging and caring for all forms of existence in the city, with all the colors and diversities, and that’s why it is called “She Who Protects.”
What do you love about today’s Athens?
I love this city, its warmth, its culture, its history and its gritty attitude. It is in this city that I found myself and it is by challenging its mentalities that I found my voice. I think this city has a lot to offer and people from around the world are slowly realizing that.