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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 31 March 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 31 MARCH 2018 17 FEATURE encapsulating the loss and enduring trauma occasioned by the experience of Greek immigration to Australia. That narrative is inspired by the loss of her grandmother, an inordinately significant presence in her life and it is one that informs most Greek Australians' understanding of their heritage and identity, hence its enduring relevance so many decades after the initial emigration of Greeks Down Under. Roi pays homage to her grandmother in the next photograph of the narrative which subtly increases the dramatic tension of separation: the married sister holds ‘western’ clothes. Once she dons them, she finds herself in a completely different world and context, as her sister, still in traditional garb, symbolises, by looking away from her towards the opposite direction. In this photo, time and memory for the sister who is to remain behind, coalesce at that moment. She has no shadow. The shadow of the migrant sister hauntingly escapes towards the end of the scene. In one of the most evocative of a series of farewell photographs, the migrant sister, prior to donning her western attire, consoles her sister by holding her close. Separated in the previous scenes, here both, whose faces cannot be discerned, meld into one, as do their shadows, cleverly, revealing only, in the mingling of their shades, a love heart, in the process of breaking in two. In the frames leading up to the final farewell, the migrant sister has put on her western clothes and thus assumed her role as a migrant. The clothes belonged to Roi's grandmother, as does the jewellery, emphasising a personal link with continuity and an identification with the migrant experience. Separated by the clothes they wear and a markedly different fate, the two youthful women facing in different directions are united tenuously for one last time, via a bare touch of their fingertips. Their faces express disbelief and grief and then the married sister is gone, creating a wound that will last forever. It is difficult not to stereotype the migrant experience, or burden it ideologically as a rags to riches narrative. Herein lies the genius of Roi's pictorial discourse. In her sensitive and inspired approach to the foundation myth of our community's existence, she chooses to focus solely on key emotions that are overlooked when assessing or seeking to understand our community's foundation members: grief and loss. If we are to understand the manner in which people cleaved to form the structures which comprise our community, if we are to appreciate their communal ethic but also comprehend the level of dysfunction that inevitably came to imbue it, we can only do so through a nuanced treatment of the huge and largely unspoken psychological burdens that formed part and parcel of the process of migration. In choosing to portray her protagonists both as youthfully women and as shadows, Roi generously challenges self-created stereotypes of the ageing first generation of Greek migrants, encouraging later generations to identify with their youthful aspirations, hopes and fears, juxtaposing happy ever after myths of migrant affluence with the eternal pain of separation, and to grapple with how memory can ossify, distort and erode narratives, which maintain a shadowy existence within our collective consciousness, shaping in ways unforeseen, our sense of identity. Antoniou's pictorial narrative is a highly significant and original treatment of the psychological dimensions of the multi-faceted migrant condition. As the first generation gradually passes into history, her efforts are timely, as that passage, taking with it a multitude of myths, stereotypes and ultimately the meaning of migration to those left behind, will, as she depicts, cause us all to feel the loss, dislocation and grief that the photographer so presciently portrays.
24 March 2018
7 April 2018