The summer heat has arrived, making the asphalt on Stadiou Street turn sticky and the city’s unpainted facades seem even grayer under the sun. With my eyes fixed on the pavement while walking, and occasionally throwing quick glances to the side where colorful shop displays interrupt the monochrome setting, I stop at the corner with Voukourestiou Street, drawn by the beguiling view of a sandy beach. The turquoise hues of the sea extend towards the horizon and join the deep-blue sky. In the next window is a gorgeous green gorge. Captivated by the lush Mediterranean vegetation, I stand and gaze at the windows.
“This is the Samaria Gorge (in Crete),” points out Alexandra Kehayoglou, who is in Athens to oversee the placement of her woven textiles in the windows of Hermès boutique.
Born in Buenos Aires, she is the granddaughter of Greek emigrants who left Asia Minor for Argentina during World War I, finding success thanks to “grandmother Elpiniki’s loom.” Her family’s hard work on the loom bore fruit in the New World, where it led to the creation of a large and successful carpet industry.
“Born in Buenos Aires, she is the granddaughter of Greek emigrants who left Asia Minor for Argentina during World War I.”
Raised literally among carpets, Alexandra took her family’s long weaving tradition and turned it into art. “At the beginning I felt obliged to follow my destiny. My grandmother had the loom; my grandfather a successful business. I began by studying business and communication, but I dropped out after a couple of months and began my own search. I took advice from career consultants, even astrologers. Everyone told me I had to join the family business, but I was only interested in art. I didn’t want any more carpets. I wanted to set myself free. I studied fine arts at IUNA (Instituto Nacional del Arte in Buenos Aires) in my search for my own expression. I experimented with painting, photography, video, installations, and then I discovered – with the help of my father – a special weaving gun. And everything fell into place. I would continue the family tradition, through art.”
In her work, which consists of ample woven surfaces and carpets, nature looms large. Her main source of inspiration are Argentina’s pastizales (grasslands), which are fast disappearing due to intensive farming and industrialization.
“When I started working on this idea, the first thought that crossed my mind was what my grandmother Elpiniki would say about my work. As I was contemplating the legacy she left behind, I found out I was pregnant. I took this to mean something; there was a connection between my own genetic line continuing to live on, and that of nature which was dying. It was then that I became certain that my role as an artist was to capture in my work the disappearing natural landscapes.
Her work lies at the crossroads of art, design and utility. “Connected with dreams, safety and comfort, carpets emulate something archetypal. When an adult and a child sit on the same floor, something magical happens; the relationship is transformed and what obstacles exist are overcome. I also like to see the effects carpets have on people. Carpets are functional pieces, but they also need care – just like nature.”
“I wanted to set myself free. I studied fine arts at IUNA (Instituto Nacional del Arte in Buenos Aires) in my search for my own expression.”
Her big break was the autumn fashion show of Dries Van Noten in September 2011. And all thanks to social media. Her Instagram account www.instagram.com/alexkeha (which has 36,500 followers) became the medium through which the Belgian designer discovered her, and made her debut a reality. The rest all happened very fast after that.
After her collaboration with Hermès in Athens and London, she will exhibit her work at Art Basel in Switzerland. Meanwhile, she has a series of collaborations lined up in the near future, from Taiwan to Australia and from New York to Italy.
“Greekness” (what Greeks call Hellenism) is an integral part of her life, even though her relationship with Greece is an indirect one. “I don’t speak Greek. I never met my grandmother, but the Greek community is part of my life. I was baptized, and my father is … very Greek. He loves food, family, music; he’s very loud and (almost) always right! And my five-year-old son tells everyone he’s Greek.”
Now, Alexandra feels like she is back to her “roots” – where everything began. “The windows at Hermès symbolize for me a journey that is now complete. My grandmother’s weaving tradition, hailing from this part of Europe, traveled to Argentina, took on a new form, and is now returning to its homeland.”
The luxury brand Hermès invites artists to take part in its competition “Artist Window”, which focuses on fresh and innovative window displays for its shops around the world.
Alexandra Kehayoglou’s creations will be on display at the Hermès boutique
•4 Stadiou and 1 Voukourestiou streets in Athens throughout the spring-summer season.