Dec 09
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Defiance and Loss in the Work of Leda Papaconstantinou

Dr. Nicolette Trahoulia    
Art History Professor
Frances Rich School of Fine and Performing Arts

When: Monday, November 16, 15:00 – 15:50

Where: DEREE Faculty Lounge

Organized by: Faculty Research Seminars 2015-16 Series


Nicolette S. Trahoulia, PhD
Professor of Art History

This paper will examine two works by Leda Papaconstantinou (b. 1945) that explore issues of female identity in Greece, one performance piece from the 1980s and another more recent piece from 2009 that combines performance and installation. In “The Lake – The Flag,” performed in 1981, Papaconstantinou engaged with cultural myth and identity, using the trope of the “woman as sign.” Wading through a pool of water surrounded by stacks of old books, her face framed in the manner of icons of the Virgin Mary, she stops to knit and then to write a trenchant statement on the back wall: “I will not return.” Her emphatic statement suggests a decisive or pivotal moment between a past and a future. In her culturally charged identification with the Virgin Mary as icon, Papaconstantinou challenges the national narrative that has positioned the female as a particular element of national identity and counters this with the discursive and performative “I”, asserting agency, and indeed, resistance to the historical framing of gender in Greece. In 2009 Papaconstantinou created a multi-faceted installation in an old oil and soap factory located in Eleusis. The now empty industrial buildings served as a setting for a complex work incorporating light, color, sound, and video-taped performances by the artist and others. Her work, entitled “Forever,” drew upon the rich mythology associated with ancient Eleusis as the site of the Eleusian Mysteries, the rituals surrounding the cult of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. While a number of feminist theorists have written about the Demeter – Persephone myth, my paper will look to the work of the French feminist, Luce Irigaray, as particularly relevant for Papaconstantinou’s use of the myth. By drawing on cultural myth and memory, Papaconstantinou raises issues of national identity at the same time that she specifically addresses women and their place in Greek society. The defiance of her earlier work is replaced in “Forever” with a perhaps more complex exploration of growth and change and the losses, as well as the gains, these processes entail.


Nicolette Trahoulia has been teaching art history at DEREE since 1999. She teaches courses on the art of the Medieval West, Byzantium, Islam, and Africa, as well as on feminist theory in art history. She has published on Byzantine art from the tenth to fourteenth centuries, exploring such issues as the interface between oral performance and illustrated books, the culture of the Byzantine palace, and the role of art as critical commentary, both religious and political.