5th International Conference

Digital Culture & AudioVisual Challenges

Interdisciplinary Creativity in Arts and Technology

Hybrid - Corfu/Online, May 12-13, 2023

Removing funerary artwork from cemeteries: the ethical considerations
Date and Time: 12/05/2023 (13:00-14:15)
Location: Online
Maria Athanasekou
Keywords: Athens First Cemetery, Yannoulis Chalepas, Neoclassicism, Funerary art, Sofia Afentaki, Sculpture, Ethics, Replica, Preservation, Restoration, Cultural Heritage

Gravestones denote sacred ground and another state of being that one should not disturb. The living ought to leave the dead rest in peace even if their tombstones happen to be true works of art. Or maybe not?
This paper seeks to discuss the ethical considerations of removing funerary art from its original context and its impact on society through a kaleidoscope of views.
In March 2017 it was known that the tombstone of Sofia Afentaki, by Yannoulis Chalepas, found at the First Cemetery of Athens, will be removed for preservation reasons, a replica taking its place, while the original will be moved permanently to the National Glyptotheque.
Triggered by this fact, ethical questions arise: Does anyone, for any reason, have a right to make decisions about funerary memorials on behalf of the family members who erected them? Should beautiful old tombstones be left unprotected to succumb to acid rain, pollution, vandalism, and age? What are the legal framework and ethical grounds regarding such decisions?
When tombstones are removed from their original location, not only do they lose their historical context as part of the cultural heritage, but also their function as grave markers. Is funerary art a special kind of ‘untouchable’ art that should be restored time and again and preserved in situ?
Burial grounds comprise a number of features, which make them a suitable theme of research for various disciplines. During the 19th century with the emergence of organised cemeteries and under the influence of Neoclassicism, the iconography of death was emphasised. The First Cemetery of Athens is the first organised necropolis to be built in modern Greece, and the official cemetery of the City dates from the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The word ‘cemetery’ derives from the Greek “κοιμητήριο”, meaning ‘sleeping place’. Christianity formed the idea of the dead resting and sleeping while waiting for the final judgment. According to the law for the protection of the antiquities and cultural heritage in general” (Law. 3028/2002 (Official Government Gazette A 153/28-06-2002) the sculpture of Chalepas constitutes a protected piece of cultural heritage. The Ministry of Culture has declared it a protected mobile monument (Κινητό μνημείο). Some of the problems artworks face limited at outdoor sites include lichen, mineral accretions, adhesions, and the removal of graffiti, but also acts of vandalism. The ultimate solution, of course, is to remove the sculpture to a climate-controlled museum, protected from damage. Nevertheless, the character of the site context is lost when the artifact is removed. The case of the removal of the Chalepas sculpture provides us with plenty of food for thought and the purpose of this paper is this exactly: to contribute to the dialogue and discuss the two opposing views – whether it should be removed or not. In this context, one cannot help but wonder: is it not an intervention to remove an artwork from its original site?
There is something special about an old graveyard, one with its authentic works. Something that replicas of the original funerary sculptures cannot give off. It is interesting and also important to take into consideration Chalepas' opinion when asked about moving her somewhere else for protection, that very day of his visit to the cemetery. He said, "She belongs here".
This paper seeks to discuss the ethical considerations of removing funerary art from its original context and its impact on society through a kaleidoscope of views.

Maria Athanasekou

Dr. Maria Athanasekou completed a Ph.D. in art history at the School of Architecture, the National Technical University of Athens, on the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, an MA in Renaissance Studies at the University of London, Birkbeck College, and a BA in Archaeology and History of Art at the National University of Athens. She teaches art history at Frederick University, Cyprus, while in the past, among other institutions, she taught at the University of the Aegean and the National Technical University of Salonica, the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, etc. She has also delivered papers at a number of international conferences which have been published and contributed with chapters to books, as well as having published books on art, therapy, and education. 

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