This exhibition stems from my years of working in Byzantine iconography and mural restoration. Rooted in traditional materials, techniques, and symbolisms I’ve studied in my career, these artworks are a continuation of my artistic practice, and expand upon the conversations sparked in my last solo show in 2015.
Each artwork has been constructed with a blend of traditional and contemporary materials. The use of historic materials (powder pigments, beeswax, egg, rabbit skin glue, gesso, gold leaf, linen, and wood) contrast with modern building materials such as plaster, expanding render and glue. The alchemy of traditional and contemporary builds a bridge between historical periods, and calls attention to the perpetuity of this art form.
Customarily, when displayed traditional artworks had no wall descriptions for the viewer to learn the story of the scene or figure portrayed. Visual language was paramount. In tandem with low literacy rates, communication via symbolism was the principal way to connect with audiences.
Colour plays a significant role in Byzantium; unique colours were attributed to each archangel or saint as identifiers. Each had their vestments colour coded in a unique way so that they were recognised at first glance. Within this body of work, I have played with symbols and colours to harken the traditional communications of Byzantium, enduring symbols that enrichen and nuance the visual language of each piece.
The depicted image (icon/ikona) functions as a vessel of knowledge. The viewer’s eyes, mind, and soul are transfixed on the ikona. The hands or lips touch it. The breath coming from the prayer and the chanting make the candlelight flicker over the gold, making the image move and react. It gains motion. It becomes alive.
In this ritual the image and the viewer have created an all-sensory experience. The viewer and the image are in conversation. They offer each other presence and existence, a channel to contemplation and the answers to the unknown knowledge.
The sacred imagery has suffered through the iconoclasm, the Crusades, the Ottoman invasions, world wars, and communism. They were lime-washed, plastered over, scratched, or burned. Rublev’s icon of Christ the Saviour, 1410, for example was used as a floorboard and found by chance in a shed with building materials around 1920. The persistence of these stories speaks to their sacredness.
The act of creating is an act of self-preservation. With the rise of AI, it’s the artist’s duty to continue the offering, as they will be the keepers of the unknown knowledge.
– Anna Prifti