Last October we interviewed the proprietors of OMMU, an Athens-based bookstore specializing in zines and independent publications. This week, OMMU is back with an illustrated guide to Greece's post-war underground publishing circuit.
Collection of Tasos Gaintatzis and Marina Legaki. Images courtesy the artists & OMMU.
Photography by Elias Chlepas.
The underground movement started in Greece after World War II, influenced by the beat generation, as well as by traditional art & folklore. As early as the mid-fifties the Greek group of Existentialists used to gather at “Simos’ shed,” a place where people partied, discussed, danced, listened to rock ‘n’ roll, and created art, in the midst of a conservative and introverted society. The group, as it happens with most movements in Greece, was influenced by philosophical movements that were established abroad, in this case in Paris, but their expression in Greece always borrowed elements from folk traditions inspired by the Greek environment, thus creating new forms of idealisms.
Poets, artists, and filmmakers all contributed to this new wave of creatives that shared a common way of thinking, producing and distributing newspapers, magazines and other publications. By writing and translating of texts, drawing, painting, organizing “happenings” in stores and in the streets, they tried to pass the message of creativity and revolt. We’ll be presenting three characteristic samples of publications, a small fragment of a large body of cultural production, one of which was produced by gallerist Nikos Papadakis, and two by Leonidas Christakis, a pivotal figure of Greece’s underground press who devoutly circulated art as well as cultural and political discourse.
The seeds were planted for the next generation to take one step further and create a plethora of self-published magazines and books on art, comics, literature, film, and politics, all in small numbers and available via a small circuit of friends, bookshops and kiosks.
Kouros & Panderma
Some of the most popular were the publications created by Leonidas Christakis, who released many different titles on art and culture. In the 50s, when he released the first issues of the magazine “Kouros” (named after the iconic figure of the Greek statue that represented not a specific person, but the idea of youth), and started his gallery by the same name, he infused the Greek arts community with a new idea around publishing and exhibiting. He never became a part of the mainstream art community, and later resented this world, although his work was editorially and aesthetically of great value and importance. He was in charge of the influential newspaper “Ideodromio,” touching on issues of gender and sexuality, feminism, philosophy, politics, art criticism and satire.
“Kouros” and “Panderma” had a mix of surrealist, dada, and psychedelic influences, all with a twist of longing for liberated sexual relationships. Christakis’ publishing activity continued until his death at the age of 81 in 2009. His legacy includes also books such as "The History of Hobos," "Chaos and Culture," "The World History of Robbery," "The Dictionary of Being High," and "Our Saints," featuring portraits of anarchist, urban guerrillas and counterculture figures neglected by official Greek history.
On the other hand the magazine “Sema,” published by the gallery “Polyplano” since the mid 70s and run by its owner Nikos Papadakis, was dedicated to showcasing art and text, mainly by artists and writers that were active at that time.
Its large format and striking layout, often including original artworks in its central spreads, gave artists the opportunity to showcase their work. It functioned as an immediate response to all the contemporary cultural stimuli, including music, literature, poetry and craft. “Sema” also introduced artists from abroad to the wider Greek public that would be impossible to discover otherwise.