by Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Chinese myths, legends and traditions inspired Greek artist Marianna Ignataki for her sixth solo exhibition entitled "Josie, the Armor and the Hairman", being hosted at the CAN Gallery here this spring.
For Ignataki, a visual artist based in Beijing and Thessaloniki in northern Greece, the body serves as a "den", a hiding place for a series of sculptures, watercolor and pencil drawings, and a video installation.
"I am interested in mythology; but what inspires me most are the paradoxes in Chinese history, culture and everyday life, as seen through my Western eyes," Ignataki told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Parts and extensions of the human body such as fingernails, hair and feet, become symbols depicting the mystery world of the Greek artist influenced by Chinese philosophy.
"I have always been interested in body extensions as a metaphor for certain psycho-emotional and socio-political situations, particularly because of their ability to voluntarily cancel, isolate or redefine the body," she added.
According to Confucius, hair does not belong to man but to his ancestors. Cutting them would be both a terrible blasphemy and a self-mutilation of one's body, he believed.
From ancient to recent Chinese history, both length and style of the hair were associated with social status, ethnicity, even political beliefs.
Also, very small feet (lotus feet) for women and very long fingernails for both men and women were linked to social status. Women from wealthy families used to bind their foot, as they did not need their legs to work, the Greek artist noted, adding foot binding was later adopted as the main symbol of beauty and elegance in Chinese society.
The silhouette of the hand with fingernails forming a cocoon, the dancing fingers that shape an inverted lotus and hair braids that wrap around the body to become nests are regular patterns that have replaced motifs like the mask, the beak and the transformations encountered in Ignataki's earlier work.
Drawn by surreal, bizarre, dark and grotesque situations, Ignataki observed her surroundings, looking for paradoxes in different contexts. "Inversions are an important part of my work," she highlighted.
Living in China is "an experience of a lifetime", she said. She moved to Beijing in 2010 following her husband who was at the time living and working there.
From day one, her surroundings influenced her work. She turned to watercolors techniques as she got interested in the fine textures of traditional Chinese painting.
"I started understanding more about the way Asian artists perceive the world, the earth, their bodies etc. A few contemporary Chinese artists who I really like are Yang Fudong, Yang Mushi, Mao Yan, Li Sa, Sun Xun, Tao Hui and Yan Xing," she said.
For an artist's development, Ignataki acknowledged how essential working in culturally diverse environments was.
"It offers inspiration, broadens one's perception, and motivates the artist to develop their work through the new experiences, influences and problems that may occur," she said.
At the beginning, life in China was difficult for her especially due to the language barrier, but she found similarities among Greeks and Chinese.
"Chinese people are quite warm and easily approachable. They like to 'occupy' public space all day long like Greeks do. Also, they casually hang out in outdoor taverns, and they often buy their friends drinks and dinner," she said.
ART IN TIMES OF CRISES
Her work has been shown for the last 13 years in solo and group exhibitions around Europe and China.
Regarding Greece's current economic impasse, Ignataki feels stressed and worried about the future.
But, what is the value of art in the age of an economic crisis?
"Art has always communicated messages and portrayed different eras. Whether artists spread social, political messages, or illustrate their own intimate world, art is always a means to the acquisition of truth and knowledge," she said.