A series of erotic photographs of dreamy young boys, all provocatively facing the camera, are from the diary of legendary Greek transvestite, activist and prostitute, Paola Revenioti. This exhibition of her photographic and video work was curated and designed by Andreas Angelidakis, an architect and artist.
On entering the show, visitors walked through projections of Revenioti’s videos (which she makes with George Liakos) of nocturnal encounters with clients, her transsexual friends and images of the Athenian underworld. Many of her images and films deal with immigration, gay and trans rights, as well as male prostitution in the Greek capital. In the basement, photographs of young men were displayed on metal shelves and framed like family pictures. This space was dimly lit, which reinforced the intimate atmosphere of the works, and enriched the experience of being part of a space where social problems are discussed – and even solved – through sensual exchanges.
Revenioti’s photographs – mostly black and white, but occasionally colour – are carefully composed: she shoots young men in front of political graffiti or in the living rooms of typical Greek homes. The nude studies reveal the rich communication that exists between Revenioti and her friends, clients and lovers; this results in images that can be both pornographic and political. In the 1970s, anarchism, police abuse and immigration were swept under the carpet in Greece. In her work, Revenioti chooses to focus on the controversial topics of the day, alongside her frank discussion of the biggest taboos of all: prostitution and homosexual love. What becomes apparent is that she is neither flaunting her work as a prostitute nor elevating it to a heroic status. She has simply taken advantage of her hourly occupation in the streets of downtown Athens to observe, relate to and reveal problematic situations that affect a large section of Greek society. She does so through her community of urban misfits, not in a manifesto-like way, but via an unstrained sense of ‘revolutionary homosexual expression’ as she herself describes it.
Discussing her groundbreaking trans-anarchist fanzine Kraximo (Gay Bashing), which she published in the early 1980s, Revenioti declared: ‘I wanted to force the public to listen, to watch and change its views. Today we have a social media that has played a big role in revolutionary changes and demonstrations around the world. Back then, we only had our nerves and our freedom to sacrifice.’ The fanzine ran a mash-up of pieces, including interviews with Félix Guattari and accounts of street hustlers alongside photographs of beautiful boys. That Kraximo was funded by Revenioti’s prostitution simply added to its uniqueness. (It should also be mentioned that Revenioti also financed the first gay pride events in Athens in the early 1990s.)
Angelidakis’s idea to revisit Revenioti’s activities and present them as the practice of a contemporary artist at this particular moment of social crisis in Greece is a strong conceptual, aesthetic and political decision, and The Breeder should be applauded for making a positive shift from the more apolitical work they’ve been showing in recent years.
At the exhibition’s opening’, I heard visitors talking furiously about how disgraceful it was that a transvestite prostitute could have a political voice and be shown in a gallery. Yet once they had seen the show, they were left speechless – and impressed.