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Metaxourgeio is a transition neighbourhood located north of the historical center of Athens on the site of the ancient cemetery Dimosio Sima. Once a thriving working-class area, Metaxourgeio suffered a period of abandonment beginning in the 1970s. Many beautiful old buildings still lie empty. The number of people wandering the streets (not to mention squatting in suspicious groups in quiet corners) is reflective of the high unemployment in the area. Houses are boarded up, walls crumble away to reveal interesting stone textures and flakes of brightly-coloured paint dust the leaf litter in the cobblestone alleys. 

Our friend Inge has been volunteering in the area, assisting local efforts to develop the creative community and beautify the suburb through guerrilla gardening. There is a real sense of artistic resurgence in Metaxourgeio; walking down the narrow back streets reveals some truly amazing street art. The artwork includes simple tags, anarchy symbols, professional poster art, installations and painted murals. The Municipal Gallery of Athens opened in Avdi Square in October 2010; Inge, Missy and I spent a couple of hours walking around the city pasting up promotional fliers for the current exhibition. Unfortunately we received a lot of rain for our efforts but we had a good laugh running from one piece of cover to the next. Thank god for plastic coats! Heading back to Metaxourgeio we tried our hand at creating some new artworks, including some decoupage of ancient Greek statues. I’m sure our artwork will be torn and painted over in no time. That is the transitional nature of street art and I like the way additions or subtractions can change the meaning of a piece. My favourite example was a slogan that said: “I always knew I would be a bank robber an artist.”

I really admired the street artists who contributed to the Space Invaders exhibition in Canberra last year. The brief time I spent in Metaxourgeio really brings home how difficult it can be to create something using cheap materials on uncooperative surfaces. Painting on a wall really isn’t as easy as it sounds. In many cases it is the ownership of the space and the concept that matters most, rather than the actual physical end state.  That street art is now featuring in national galleries and art history books is a step towards recognizing the skills of these artists; though in the end, I think the anonymity of this practice should be cherished – even Banksy has an online store these days.   

Thanks to Vasilis for letting us use his apartment as a base for the day. It was great to see a part of Athens that wasn’t overrun with tourists. Metaxourgeio had a genuine creative pulse and may follow the path of the neighbouring Gazi district, re-emerging as a great nightspot for tourists and Greeks alike. In ten years time, it may well be comparable to the bohemian haunts of Brunswick, Fitzroy or New Town. I have my fingers crossed!  

Inge at work on the collage

Missy and I hard at work…



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