Community Outreach, Research

Gefyra and the Molyvos-Geraki Connection

May 31, 2024

This year, with the support of the Gefyra initiative, a collaborative program between the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture and the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), we embark on two public impact projects aimed at creating a positive impact on local communities in Greece while fostering a deeper appreciation of Hellenic culture. Our newest endeavor, the Molyvos Connections project, seeks to produce a social and cultural geography of the North Aegean. At the same time, we will continue our ongoing work in Geraki, this year identifying the historic residences of local weavers and locations of looms in order to foreground women’s important contributions to the village over the last two centuries.

A total of thirteen students from the United States, Canada, Turkey, and Greece will join together to highlight the cultural significance of documenting the past in both Molyvos and Geraki. In Molyvos, the students from SFU will be in dialogue with the Athens School of Fine Arts, whose students will join us in Lesvos. Their work will shed light on the values, traditions, and rituals that have shaped today's Hellenic social and political landscape, providing valuable insights into Hellenic culture. In Geraki, UCLA students will work together with members of the Cultural Society of Geraki and students from Geraki High School. Initially, the UCLA and SFU students will gather in Athens to exchange ideas, share insights from previous projects, and visit museum collections and archives related to the projects.

During their time in Molyvos, students, faculty and community members will embark on a digital humanities project focused on a rich trove of archival materials, local history, and material culture. The project will also include interviews with various community members, including local historians, farmers, artists, ceramists, botanists, and even a folk dollmaker, but they will also engage in photography and lidar scans of the landscape, buildings, and historical artifacts.

In Geraki, students will expand on a large-scale initiative developed in 2023-2024, which involved the cataloguing of kilims and tagaria woven in the village, the creation of published catalogue, the making of sixteen short films (in Greek with English subtitles), and the design of an exhibition that will open at the Benaki Museum in 2026. This summer’s project, mapping the residences of weavers and the locations of looms, will be used to brand Geraki as a weaving village, with the hope of enhancing craft tourism.

At the end of two years of activities in Greece, we expect to positively impact two very different, historic communities and give back a documented and broader perspective on their culture, one produced in close collaboration with them. Through these initiatives, we aim to cultivate a richer appreciation and comprehension of Hellenic culture in social contexts, recognizing the historical influence of dowries and family law on forming contemporary social norms, familial relationships, traditions, and customs.

Additionally, our students will have interacted with individuals and groups at the village level, helping them relate their lived experience, culture, and history to broader audiences. All the while, the students will learn from that significant engagement and gain valuable digital humanities experience in the process. By creating meaningful bonds with members of lay and academic communities, we will have fulfilled Gefyra's aspiration to further connect our two institutions, while also bridging Greece, both its lay communities and its academic and cultural institutions, with the West Coast.