Vassaras is a small village community in the Peloponnese mountains in Greece. It was once a thriving community of over 2000 inhabitants with many tavernas cafes and shops. By 2011 this had become a warm welcoming community of fewer than 150 inhabitants, the vast majority over the age of 60. Vassaras like many other similar towns and villages, is spread over two villages Vassaras and Veria, (its summer village up the mountain) but also has large communities in Boston, Chicago, New York and also parts of Australia. It lies in the mountains surrounding Sparta and its way of life has been preserved and seems untouched by the current economic crisis in Greece. It is out of time. In the summer months the town swells with visiting Vassarai on a mission to submerge themselves in their families cultural roots. Its local newspaper a monthly publication reflects this as it contains stories and information from all these communities combined. Many of the local’s families live abroad and have done so for many years since they emigrated.
This project was inspired and sprung into action on seeing Kristitsa for the first time… a wonderful character with a face telling many tales. Over two weeks in December 2011 the streets, fields and roads of Vassaras were wandered in an attempt to capture portraits of the villagers, capturing them in their day-to-day activities. Many were in the olive fields and in their homes while others were in their place of work in the remaining two tavernas and mini market.
In April 2012 for Easter the installation of over 140 prints in three various locations within the village began. The community embraced the project and the local taverna provided wine, olives and paximadia and everyone became involved. The venues were varied and there was choice of the village which allowed much room for creativity. The abandoned school was brought back to life with a classroom setting being recreated with all the remaining books and school materials left in the space. The town hall was utilized and was draped with olive nets with the prints hung on them. Items were also used from the closed olive mill to dress the space.
A local man Sarando who used to run a taverna called Café Neo, offered up his space as the third venue. This had been a bustling taverna in its day, which had been closed for many years. Sarando's now 93 had been the owner of this bad boys joint and it wasn’t long before the local card players arrived in and breathed life into the space again. They even paid Sarando for the card playing table (which was a traditional task for the loser of the game) at the end of one of the nights, which true to form he accepted with a smile on his face and popped in his top pocket. It became a living reenactment of the old days and was truly heart warming to experience and see what this art project had brought to the village.
For that short time in the village the community was ignited. As a community they were deeply touched, you could see it in their faces and in the gratitude they expressed. The streets became alive as all the locals made their way with visiting families from out of town to have a look at all three venues on the trail.
This feat could not have completed without the help from Joan, Phil, Shema & Family who fed and watered us and opened the doors into peoples homes and George Meletis Town Major. And of course the biggest thanks of all to all the people from the village who allowed this young foreign girl with a camera enter their lives for a time. Sadly Kristitsa passed in May of 2012 without seeing the exhibition as she did not attend.