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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 5 May 2018
16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 5 MAY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM n an Australian first, Multicultural Museums Victoria (MMV) – an alliance between the Chinese, Italian, Greek, Islamic, and Jewish museums in Melbourne – presents 'Grandmothers', a unique and ground-breaking project, celebrating the role and significance of grandmothers in culturally diverse communities in Melbourne, both historically and today. These five extraordinary exhibitions will be launched at Government House on Thursday by Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau AC, and the five exhibitions and accompanying events program that pay homage to the mothers and grandmothers from multicultural community backgrounds will officially open to the public tomorrow, Sunday 6 May. Thursday's launch event, alongside keynote speakers Helen I Kapalos, chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Rebecca Forgasz the Jewish Museum of Australia Director & CEO, presented three grandmothers: Laura Mecca, whose images and story will be showcased at Co.As.It Italian Historical Society and Museo Italiano; grandmother Wafa Fahour to whom the Islamic Museum of Australia exhibition is dedicated; and Greek grandmother Connie Gregory, sharing her personal journey at the Hellenic Museum. “When I first heard about the ‘Grandmothers’ exhibition I was moved profoundly by the theme, which spoke to all communities, all people, and the common humanity we share across cultures, across the world, across time and across the generations: the familiar and familial matriarchal figure of the grandmother. I would like to commend MMV on this inspiring initiative,” said Ms Kapalos. Through this collaborative exhibition 'Grandmothers', MMV invites visitors to attend multiple museums to learn about nonnas and yiayias, wàipós, jeddah, and bubbes, discovering similarities and differences between communities and traditions, and developing a greater understanding and appreciation of their own grandmothers and the central role of grandmothers in our society. "The Hellenic Museum's ‘Yiayia’ puts the spotlight on the wide range of roles that grandmothers play within the Greek family and community. Despite the centrality of grandmothers and older women to Greek cultural identity, there is a tendency for these women to be neglected amidst the chronicles of great men's experiences. In our surviving sources from antiquity, barely a whisper is heard about grandmothers," affirms Sarah Craig, the project's curator. Yiayia: the word's familiar ring instantly conjures an image of a warm, wise and worldly guru. With its easy, rhythmic sound, it is not uncommon for the word to be among the first spoken by a child, with whom Greek grandmothers traditionally form a close relationship from a very early age. Through this relationship, Greek grandmothers act as nurturers, playmates, storytellers, and teachers. But these women's experiences are not limited to the quotidian, domestic sphere. Of course, this is in part owing to the high death rates throughout antiquity, which greatly reduced the likelihood of a woman reaching an age where they might expect to become a yiayia. "However, we know that young women learned a great deal in the home Yiayia Right on time for Mother’s Day, Multicultural Museums Victoria is putting a spotlight on the wide range of roles that grandmothers play within the multicultural family and community Yiayia. PHOTO: ELLI BARDAS from their older female relatives," says Ms Craig. "This would have included mothers, grandmothers and aunts, who taught their younger female relatives everything they needed to know about marriage, housekeeping, child-rearing and health. These were relationships of tutelage, of companionship, of play." Some remarkable evidence does suggest the presence of grandmothers in their grandchildren's lives, Ms Craig goes on, describing a particularly poignant grave stele (column), discovered at the Kerameikos Cemetery in Athens, showing a woman holding a child on her lap. "The woman is revealed, by the inscription, to be the child's grandmother: 'I hold the child of my daughter, whom I used to hold on my knees when we both saw the light of the sun; now dead, I hold him, dead too' (Athens, Kerameikos Museum, P695). This mention of a grandmother-grandchild relationship from an ancient source is extremely unusual. It speaks to us across the centuries, revealing how grandmothers have acted as nurturers and companions to their grandchildren since time immemorial," she says. Aside from this bittersweet depiction, the ancient Greek sources are almost entirely silent on the matter of grandmothers and older female relatives in general. "There was no part, our history-makers seemed to believe, for the humble grandmother in their chronicles whether these took the form of objects, literature or artworks. They are missing, invisible, silent. "Our project ‘Yiayia’ is a labour of love, designed partly to thank these women for their strength and wisdom, and partly an effort to simply make their voices heard. We want to draw these women's stories out of the shadows, and to reassert the place of women in Greek culture," Ms Craig stresses. "Engaging the participation of women from Melbourne's Greek community, we seek to give them a platform to tell their stories, charting their experiences from childhood, to adulthood, to older age and 'grandmotherhood'." From family heirlooms to interviews and family photographs, ‘Yiayia’ aims to create a poignant experience that will resonate with visitors of all ages and cultures. "It has been an absolute pleasure meeting with these women, who have shared with us so many different stories," the curator enthuses. "With this in mind, our aim is to reflect a range of differing experiences, challenging the idea that there is only one course for a woman's life to take. One of the stories we tell centres on a woman who is not, technically speaking, a yiayia. And yet her younger relatives call her 'yiayia', recognising the close and powerful bond they have shared with her."
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