This is the story of an artist, who is seriously in love with her home country, Greece, its rich tradition & folklore and… its fishing boats! I was honestly amazed by this young girl’s deeds and positive outlook on life, who found herself disembarking the 2:00 AM sea-jet on Schoinoussa, wearing bright fuchsia pants and looking out of place, only to win the hearts and respect of the local community within a few months! Christianna Economou (@chrieco29) in collaboration with “Agoni Grammi Gonimi”, a platform that designs and implements educational and social programs in remote areas of Greece, is reviving & documenting local traditions and crafts in the Small Cyclades. Her creations, fishing boats named “Fearless Boats / Καράβια Που Δεν Φοβήθηκαν”, are becoming symbols of local customs re-invention and serve to remind us that we should always appreciate and reflect on a country’s history and past… and that the best journeys in life are made on “Fearless Boats”…
It was a real joy to meet her and interview her for #theFMartini. She ordered a double plain greek coffee and talked to me about her “spinning loom” sessions, her love for greek movies & music (she listens to Sofia Vembo), for making kites, baking tsourekia (traditional greek patisserie) for the Greek Orthodox Easter, making flower wreaths in May, crafting traditional Christmas boats and… her pet baby goat in Schoinoussa, “Isidora”! She made me want to follow her back to Schoinoussa and experience, first-hand, all this greek authenticity she narrated. Greek beauty is about “getting back to basics” and Christianna portrays this in an unbeatable way!
Read her story below:
Q & A
Tell us a few words about your background studies in Fine Arts
I did a foundation course on Art & Design, in Chelsea, and then, a Fine Arts course on Sculpture Installation Performance, in Saint Martins. At the same time, I got commissioned as a freelancer by Browns, in London, to help set up their window display visuals. This was a collaboration that started in 2011 and lasted throughout my study years.
I have always had great love for greek traditions and folklore and this was also my dissertation theme. My love for traditional fish-boats goes back to my childhood greek summers, all spent on the island of Spetses, where on September 1ST, we would celebrate Saint Mamas (the local Saint), creating little fishing boats, made out of wood, bottles and other materials. That was our summer preoccupation and source of inspiration!
When I felt that the “London circle” had been completed for me, I decided to realize another lifelong dream and travel to India with a very good friend of mine. There, we did volunteering work at a school with autistic children, to whom we did Occupational Therapy through art. We started in Delhi, but travelled all over Rajastan for a few months, until I went back to London for a short while, to continue my collaboration with Browns and their Christmas windows. Upon my return to Greece, it was very clear to me that I wanted to get more engaged with greek traditions and customs and I was trying to find a way to make this possible, by having an art base on a greek island!
How did your collaboration with “Agoni Grammi Gonimi” start?
“Agoni Grammi Gonimi” is a platform that designs and implements educational and social programs in remote areas of Greece. Our first collaboration (that unfortunately was never fully realized, as it coincided with the Greek Referendum) was documenting local traditions and people’s stories on the Island of Schoinoussa. I fell in love with the island’s pace and the transition of leaving the city’s frenzy behind and being, within six hours, somewhere reminiscent of Greece in the 50’s. I was craving to go back and do a new project in Schoinoussa and that’s how the idea of the project “Fearless Boats / Καράβια Που Δεν Φοβήθηκαν”, with the moto “All we see is the sea”, actually came up. We decided to do a project in Small Cyclades, which I would supervise and which had to do with renovating local fishing boats and turning them into works of art. Our starting point was Schoinoussa and our first fishing boat was “Mikros Ilias”. “Agoni Grammi Gonimi” was my ticket to get into the beautiful local society of the island, a community which is not easy to get integrated into and accepted by, otherwise.
Tells us a little bit more about the program “Fearless Boats / Καράβια Που Δεν Φοβήθηκαν”
The program was named after a book I had seen at the gift shop of the Cycladic Museum and whose title I thought was more than appropriate, as it gave another dimension to the art project. Obviously, I don’t make big boats, but rather fishing boats. And the idea behind this is that by restoring them, they get reborn and revived, they get to “swim” against the current of time!
We are given the fishing boats by the community of the island of Naxos (all Small Cyclades belong there); they become obsolete and of no use and get conceded to the community by the local families. I totally reconstruct them and do everything from scratch: I nail down the planks, cut them, patch them up, re-apply the first layer of colors and then, last comes the painting work! I have a team of local craftsmen that help me in this process, as physically I can’t do everything by myself. There are also many technical issues I don’t know about and still learn. So far, I have done two of them, “Mikros Ilias” in Schoinousa and “Captain Giannis” in Irakleia. The goal is to make one fishing boat per year for every island of the Small Cyclades and my next destinations are: Koufonissia (for 2018), Donoussa and Amorgos. Through every creation / restoration, I myself feel I mature and change considerably together with my fishing boat projects.
The “Fearless Boats / Καράβια Που Δεν Φοβήθηκαν” program also includes several workshops with the local kids. The island of Schoinoussa has 12 kids (aged 4 – 17). We read sea- fare stories and create collages, consisting of vintage photos of the island and the children’s “ancestors”, we draw and name fishing boats, which showcase each kid’s imagination and individuality.
What is living in Schoinousa off season like?
I wake up at 7:30 in the morning and go straight to the local café, where there only men hang out. I hear stories about fishing and hunting and really get to experience the local vibe. Then, I work on my fishing boats in the port, do the kids workshop classes and, in between, I usually have something to eat or take a quick dip in the sea!
I never feel lonely, at times I want to be on my own but I can’t, as I’m an outgoing, sociable person and have developed such special bonds with the people there. The local grandmothers call me “our girl” and bring me fresh eggs, baked cookies, pies, and cakes daily. I’m a city girl, not at all in favor of seclusion, but I feel I get to experience the best of both worlds through this lifestyle choice. It is not really that difficult to reach the Small Cyclades or any island in Greece for that matter. I view the journey as a cruise, where I get to relax, next to a boat window overlooking the sea, and read my book – what could be better than that?!
To what extent has this journey on “Fearless Boats” changed you?
There is so much to gain out if it. To me, Athens is a city that has so many things to offer, even in the middle of the current crisis. You have to be able to pick and choose, filter really the good parts and combine them with small escapes.
The most intriguing part of being in Schoinoussa, and what practically keeps me there, is that I constantly learn things about myself! By living in such a small community, every aspect of your character and life becomes enlarged, you are way out of your comfort zone and so, you have to learn to adapt and redefine yourself and set your boundaries. City provides you with a sort of anonymity that is completely lost in a close-knite local community. For the past two years, I feel I’ve had the best psychoanalysis… Yes, I have definitely evolved as an artist, but I have gained so much on a personal, human and social level.
Favorite Martini cocktail & favorite Martini place?
It was an unbelievable Cucumber Martini, made with “Xylanguro” (a melon variety) at Schoinoussas’s local beach bar!
Photo Credit: Anna Tagalou