Anagnostopoulou ATHENS (Xinhua) -- This February,
art lovers in Athens have the chance to peek into one of the
richest and most important private collections of ritual masks
and artifacts not only in Greece, but worldwide according to
Some 75 impressive masks and
accessories, such as musical instruments, jewels and hats from 5
continents, all belonging to Fotis Kaggelaris’ 1,000-item
collection, are on display until next weekend in the showroom of
the Athens School of Fine Arts.
“[The artifacts] make part of
ceremonies that mark important events of the tribe, of the
community, or of people’s personal lives. For example, they
are part of hunting ceremonies, circumcision ceremonies in
Africa and other places, or more personal rituals that help
dispel a disease or make a labour safer, for example,”
Kaggelaris told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Contrary to the West’s perception, a
mask is not only an accessory put on the face: some of them
resemble full-body outfits, some are worn on other parts of the
body or are meant to be simply held, hung on a tree or displayed
in prominent positions of the private or public space.
“The mask serves the personification
of magical, supernatural powers that are materialised
through it and are used in order to either bring a blessing
to the community or chase away the evil,” Kaggelaris
explained. It is the enforcement of human desire upon
nature, against which he feels powerless, the collector
Made of all sorts of natural
materials, such as wood, stone, paper, shells and clay, each
item is unique, bears a special symbolism and is often designed
to naturally decompose after its ceremonial use, explained
Kaggelaris, who has devoted decades of his life in tracking down
and rescuing the masks.
Kaggelaris, who is a doctor of
Psychopathology and comes from a background of psychoanalytic
studies, recounts that his love of masks began in his student
years in Paris, where he had the chance to admire ethnic
artifacts from all over the world at the Museum of Vincennes.
But the actual collection started by
mere coincidence, when one of his African classmates offered to
sell him a mask he had brought from Africa in order to gain some
much-needed money. Kaggelaris gave him the money without taking
the mask, but in a gesture of appreciation, the classmate
returned from his next summer vacation in Africa with a talisman
mask as a gift for him.
This mask hit a sensitive chord and
clicked with Kagelaris’ passion for modern art movements, which
were in a constant, fruitful dialogue with the Primitive Arts.
But, apart from his artistic pursuits,
the mask collection was fueled by Kaggelaris’ passion for
travels, as it is the fruit of a painstaking quest around the
globe. His main motive has been collecting not only objects, but
also travels and unique experiences.
“If I didn’t travel, I wouldn’t get
the masks. I was never interested in buying or trading masks at
bazaars or online. What I wanted was to go to their birthplace,
to negotiate the masks and feel that I am entrusted with them.
Apart from the narrative a mask bears in itself, I wanted there
to be a narrative of my own story of how I acquired it,” he
From his part, the Athens School of
Fine Arts (ASFA) Dean Panos Charalambous, who is also the
exhibition’s curator, underlined the significance of the event.
As he explained, ASFA is a neoclassical type of School, meaning
that its students mainly get their creative stimuli from Western
art, and exhibitions like this one are potentially
“This is an exceptional chance for
[our students] to get acquainted with forms and rituals that
can nourish and enrich the learning process,” he stressed.
“Folklore art and different cultures
in general can fuel a more educated, finer or higher -so to
speak- culture, which leads to the conclusion that there are
not high and low cultures, but only different cultures,”