Search for a face, Angel-carpet dealer

Search for a face, Jewish museum of Greece, Athens, Angel-carpet dealer, Yeni Mosque-Thessaloniki

Between human and beyond: The mitigation of the intermediary space of art.

Thoughts for the exhibition by four painters of the Jewish Museum of Greece

…Marilena Zamboura’s painting on first sight is juicy, outgoing, and talkative. The human figures descending vaguely from the big religious traditions blend in a festival of colours, voices and ways of painting, like having Kokoska and Kitaj blended violently. It is a religious toleration of art, comparable, impetuous, that prunes away the sprouts from everywhere so she can express her subject or submit her atmosphere. Here, though this uncontrolled painting, that is to say, obeys form. Zamboura puts up a big banner, a monumental screen, a kind of a certain worship banner, painted with zeal on precious paper and cloth, with a faint figure, enormous, like an angel on a crucifix, with an annexation of a small man, with scriptures hanging. In addition, in front of this monument, in a small rug, she leaves empty, alone, two humble slippers. Painting defines the place of supplication the intermediate space between the divine and the human, interfaith, intertribal, intercultural. However, man is physically absent, he exists there only through his aura, with whatever he supposedly left behind, with his soul. Art can intervene between man and God, but his field remains only as a possibility, certainly is absent. The empty slippers can welcome every spectator, but to begin with, they are empty…

Nikos Xidakis ART EDITOR


Marilena Zamboura 1985-2002

From the beginning of the 80s, Marilena Zamboura in the course of her career as a painter has been narrating stories of a personal mythology, seeking to define her identity and her artistic persona. Having as a starting point the individuality, the privacy, the personal experience, Zamboura paints her obsessions moving like an acrobat between reality, fantasy and illusion, between the present and the past, in a dual route in time using memory and its mythmaking functions. In a series of her early paintings, the artist stages her scenes around the closed and introverted microcosm of the-children’s everyday life. In these paintings, her old toys are the leading figures, inside specific, existing, fully defined places, directly related lo situations of her childhood, which she “appropriates” through painting. The naivety and the knowledge, the world of the children and the work! of the adults are interwoven in their intersected tracks, signalling and impressing upon each other. Her paintings become seeking places of a lost  paradise, places of utopia, places inhabited by desires and ideas, haunted by fears, that ask for their spell. Realistic, immediately recognizable beings and objects co-exist and converse with reflections of imagination, symbols and unrealistic creatures. The entirety and integrity co-exist dialectically with the fragmented reality and a lost (maybe for ever) unity.

 So far, the autobiographical dimension has been the keystone of Zamboura’s work. The scope and the context, however, become gradually different.  The artist will expand her horizon; she will search for her self-knowledge using other means. She will be concerned with the issue of the gender identity, and specifically of the female identity, in different visions, either seen in the light of the personal-individual environment and of the age circle or inscribed in historical and social contexts arid in codified attitudes (for example, in her paintings from the series “One- two, one-two, masculine- feminine” in the “Kyra-Frosyni” cycle in “’Narration of an age” 1993-94,1995,1999). Based on the legend of the punishment, on Kyra Frosyni’s and other women’s drowning by Ali Pasha in the lake in Ioannina, Zamboura proceeds to a speculation of the female nature. A speculation placed in the historical-ethnographic framework, with the environment- scenery of the drama, that is, the lake, Ali Pasha’s seraglio, the Castle with its narrow streets, as a significant background Avoiding the folklore and picturesqueness she describes her relationship with the legend by visual means ,by the various materials used as well as by artifices. On a second level, she reproduces the legend’s power and the charm that exerts on us, with the contribution of time and its process. Her speculation about the gender identity is engrafted with the primary issues of the myth, with its inner elements and its symbolisms, with references to primitive, catalytic forces and notions: death-life, love, violence, power, destiny, nature, water. The emblematic depiction, the fragmentation, the repetition of partial motifs (for example that of the palm), with various references will constitute the main components of the artist’s narrative code. The charge of the meaning is enhanced not only by a gesturing script of an expressionistic character and of intense painterly quality, but also by the language itself and the significance of the materials used by Zamboura either as background surfaces or pasted on the works, She works on handmade pieces of paper glued on and sewed on fabric (pieces of clothe, gauze, curtain). The big sized paintings in which the pictorial space, the landscape is rendered like a map, look like tapestries. The materiality of  the painting, the painting as a material object, the notion of embroidery, of handwork, which is directly connected with the female sensitivity and the female habits especially of the traditional societies, have certainly a special semantic gravity here. The frames of some paintings constitute an organic part and parcel of them, with their embellishments, their ornaments (tulles, beads, pins) and their colour, and underline this idea of the artist for the painting. It is an idea connected with the artistic process, as we realize by the total inspection of her work.

Zamboura’s paintings express a complex network of personal experience, memory, imagination, which is also shaped on the palimpsest  of the layers on the painting’s surface. In the pictorial space chaos and order co-exist interactively, design and color run dynamically through each other, giving birth to figures, forms and structures, sometimes concrete and recognizable and sometimes abstract. Attractions and repulses, opposite trends with their intensity contribute to the effectiveness of the image that “swings” almost constantly between the representational  and the abstract quality. This-.ambiguous, boarder- line situation becomes tangible by the unstable, constantly transformed  balance between the surface and the background of the image, between the colors and the forms, between the solid and the fluid, between the concentration and the looseness as a motif as well as a painting process. This dialectic process marks a great part of Zamboura’s painting with significant semantic results. This visual effect animates in front of the viewer the “ritual” of the creative act . The viewer might think that the images continue to pulsate through the process of their creation on the canvas, which is not simply an inert substratum, but a ‘living body” suffering along and participating decisively on its own conditions in the creation of the picture.

The vitality, the energy emerging from the painted surface by means of the expressionistic-idiosyncratic gesture, the tracks of the thick paint, the corporeal quality of the painting matter , mark also her landscapes (especially the series “Seasons”). In these landscapes the place, the nature, seen usually from above in a panoramic view, is perceived as a universe in constant creation, in a fluid mobility of transmutation within the circular flow of the cosmic order, with metaphysical extensions. The geological figures blend with the rough modeling, with the colors that are molded with light, with the purely pictorial “events”. The limits between the figurative detail and the essence of painting  seem to be constantly redefined, creating new “fields” for the visual perception of the image. The tactile material through its elaboration is invested with meanings. It becomes vehicle of potential interpretations, a generative agent of associations. The expressiveness of the materials and of their handling has always been a fundamental component of Zamboura’s art. The pictorial “incidents” with their notional charge are a constant presence, but the works are never anecdotal. The tree, the water, the fire, the stairs that lead to heavens (?), the naked human in nature, the archaic- primitive element, all these are present with their original depicting force and their metaphorical contents. The lack of coherence, the fragmentariness,  the repetition compose the space-time of narration in these paintings.

With her intervention-installation in Yeni -Mosque, a monument with multiple significances (It was a mosque of the islamized Jews and later an archeological museum) Zamboura promotes her searches in issues of existential nature, issues of identity – difference, of self- knowledge. Her research is extended through time and has an intercultural dimension. The artist mixes elements, ideas, figures and representational codes from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Her works, like monumental flags, like carpets of prayer, with their intense physical presence and their loud polychromy converse in many ways with the monument that receives them, with its identity, its historical uses, its spirituality and aura, its architectural morphology, its decoration. The human and the divine, the earthly and the transcendental, the individual and the collective, the personal subjective time and the time of history meet in the “junction” of art.

With her own artistic ways, Zamboura  refers to and comments on the religious rituals and their symbolisms, their elliptical but apocalyptic language, their significances. The visual and the expressive functionalism of the shapes, of the forms, of the clearly defined color fields, of the repeated motives with their rhythm, the flowing motion and the calligraphy of the delicate lines in contrast to the rigid graphic rendering, the sensual richness of color with references to the valuable materials of worship, the ornamental element with its various side references in the context of (each) religious art; all these are the main types of the artist’s alphabet and syntax. The opposite movements and directions, the levitation, the unstable balance, the centripetal and the centrifugal movements, the oppositions along with the connections, the emblematic symmetry, the frontal hieratic immobility are also vital tools for the construction of the pictorial space, for the enhancement of the images’ content and “ethos”. The light has a leading part in the formation of this mystic world, in the illusionary impressions, in the relation between the surface and the background with its symbolic connotations.

These works are loci of a metaphysic, spiritual reality despite their evident handmade nature and the tactile sense that emerges from them, The works invite to courses of the eye and of the mind in the transcendental universe that the artist literally and metaphorically surveys from many points of view. Avoiding the trap of the easy “archeological” approach and look, Zamboura composes a substantial communication with the space ,with the monument, corresponding at the same time to contemporary requests and answering issues about the function of the work of art and its perception, in terms of a multi -dimensional esthetic experience.

Aphrodite Kouria  Art historian ,2002

Sewing, nailing, eating

There are works for which we have been preparing ourselves for years, in the same way that life prepares us for death.

As a child and as a teenager, Marilena would see her grandfather, the surgeon, embroidering pillowcases and tablecloths ; she would hear her father, the surgeon, nailing up the doors in order to exorcise the evil spirit; she would sit on Persian carpets to eat Jewish sweets that her mother would bring to her from the jewish school where she would teach eurythmics.

All these three family memories meet in her last work.

Marilena Zamboura, constructing her frames sewed curtains, gauzes and linen, she glued Indian handmade pieces of paper on them, creating a materialistic puzzle, which reflects the cultural puzzle of the three monotheistic religions that concern her. Zamboura’s carpets suffer from the colour disease – where the gold colours of the universe and the red colours of the power undertake to relieve her from a feverish polychromy. With the dancing (often twisted) motions of the angels, the painter indulges the lifelong loneliness of the being that levitates between the celestial and the earthly, the male and the female, the parent and the child, the idea and the object. The nails in her works recall the confines of the paternal figure, the crucified members of Jesus, the suspended evil spell of time. The Jewish pastry-making (a blend of Spanish, Muslim and Biblical memories of the mouth) is transformed into ottoman decorative art, into Jewish architecture, into Christian iconography. The painter cooks like a surgeon (carefully and in sterility) and then she consumes big quantities of food slowly and concentrated in herself like a Sufi, like a Haggadah like a Stylite.

I believe that this Kaleidoscope of the inside images couldn’t find a better receptive place than the Yeni Mosque, since in the building of Pozeli the Byzantine cross, the Crescent and David’s star had been flowing like refreshing water for years.

As for the “Angel” (Zamboura’s “Carpet dealer”) he doesn’t violate the sanctity of the place (where in former time the islamized Jews and the Muslims would kneel to talk to God.  He is just displaying his wares; that is the colours, the patterns, the textures, the wears and the burls of the most difficult and ancient art – that of co-existence.

Michel Fais  author ,2002