by Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, March 18 (Xinhua) -- Following Greece's deep recession, a vibrant wave of graffiti art has flourished in Athens in recent years. Many street artists express their messages on the economic crisis, unemployment and social injustice on the walls of abandoned buildings.
Street Art Conservators (St.A.Co.), a volunteer group of 10-20 professionals and student restorers, preserves these artworks as part of the new cultural heritage.
According to St.A.Co. members, the aesthetic improvement of the urban tissue through street art is recognized and welcomed in the city.
Their latest accomplishment was the restoration of an impressive owl mural, inspired by Jimmy Hendrix's quote "Knowledge Speaks-Wisdom Listens", which adorned a building in Metaxourgeio district in central Athens.
During a festival in Athens last year, street artist "WD" born in Bali and currently living in Greece, created the mural urging Greeks and foreigners to recall the owl's wisdom.
He chose the bird because the owl was one of the symbols of Athena, the goddess of wisdom in ancient Greek mythology, and the patroness of the city of Athens.
But, the graffiti was vandalized this February, when someone wrote the word "VIRAL" in pink paint on top.
The St.A.Co. took action.
"Our goal is to rescue and prolong the life of these pieces of arts since they are exposed to environmental pollution and damage from human activity," Eleftheria Mavromati and Calliope Orianou from St.A.Co. told Xinhua.
Five years ago, after a research project on public wall paintings, the young restorers decided to record and breathe new life into works of graffiti that had suffered extensive damage.
They dedicate days and weeks to preserve each work. For the owl mural, they started by making some trials to see which method to follow and what materials to use in order to remove the overpainting.
"With full respect to the design of the artist, we proceeded with the conservation of the surface of the painting with friendly materials towards the colors of the work," they explained.
Besides conservation activities, the group enjoys to organize walking tours to areas with significant street arts, as well as educational programs at schools where they present the history of graffiti, techniques and materials artists use.
Has Athens become a holy place for graffiti artists? "Maybe the combination of the ancient element with the modern is what inspires artists and lends Athens a certain allure," Mavromati and Orianou said.
In time of hardships a dialogue among artists is being developed. A walk in the streets of Athens today is enough to see that street art comments and takes side on what is happening in the society.
The economic crisis has provided fertile ground for developing further the art of graffiti in Greece.
With recession plaguing the country for seven years, numerous retail stores and shops have been forced to shut down in very popular business zones, leaving buildings abandoned but adored by street artists who can exhibit their talents in painting without being disturbed by landlords.
"Street art gives the opportunity to every neighborhood to claim their lost value in the city, to show that all neighborhoods deserve attention," the St.A.Co. restorers stressed.