Even during the difficulties of a corona crisis, it seems Athens is proceeding to take care of its cultural scene, the arts, music, etc. It is one of the reasons I love Athens…a never-sleeping city, always interesting, with new things to explore.
After the completion and reopening of the Greek National Gallery earlier in 2021, another new contemporary culture center has recently opened as well, adding to the booming arts and letters scene of Athens!
The emblematic building of the former Public Tobacco Factory in Sepolia, Athens, has now opened its doors to the public. From the building’s total area of 19,000 sq m, 6,500 sq m that until now remained closed and unused, have been renovated thanks to funding from NEON and are already in use. Besides being a cultural space it’s also home to the Hellenic Parliament Library and Printing House.
NEON is a non-profit organization that works to make contemporary culture available to wider audiences by putting together free exhibitions across various locations in Athens and Greece. Their aim is to inspire and nurture the appreciation of contemporary art in Greece, an element that they consider key to growth and development, showing how it can be approachable and interact with its urban environment.
The former Public Tobacco Factory is a historical site that is part of the collective industrial and socioeconomic history of the era when it was built, and a characteristic example of the architecture from that period. It was built during the Interwar period between WWI and WWII to house businesses that processed and packaged tobacco, as well as tobacco storage facilities. This was an era that was marked by a blooming tobacco industry in Greece, but also political and social tension.
A brief history of the tobacco industry in Greece
The Greek tobacco industry of the 20th century, i.e. the processing of tobacco leaves and the manufacturing cigarettes, played a key role in the country’s history in many ways: it led to the growth and prosperity of several cities including Kavala, Drama, Xanthi and Thessaloniki (all of them are in Northern Greece), it shaped a new social class in Greece and initiated the labor movement, which campaigned to improve the rights and conditions of working people in Greece.
Besides boosting the local economy and Greece’s trade relationships, the tobacco industry offered a solution to the challenge of mass unemployment presented by the arrival of the Asia Minor Greeks: its rapid growth created many jobs which were quickly covered by the Greek immigrants that arrived in Northern Greece (Macedonia and Thrace) after the end of the Greco-Turkish War in 1922.
At the same time, the tobacco trade led to the development of a new aesthetic that encompassed everything from architecture (tobacco factories and storage facilities like the one in Sepolia) to everyday objects related to smoking and advertising materials.
The former Public Tobacco Factory currently hosts the contemporary art exhibition Portals, a collaboration between the Hellenic Parliament and NEON. The exhibition commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence while exploring contemporary issues and investigating the new reality that formed through the change and disruption caused by the pandemic.
The exhibition is spread throughout all the renovated areas of the building and features 59 artists from 27 countries, who worked with various media – installation, painting, sculpture, photography, and performance.
former Public Tobacco Factory – Hellenic Parliament Library and Printing House | 218 Lenorman St. 104 43, Athens
A collaboration between the Hellenic Parliament and ΝΕΟΝ
Curated by Elina Kountouri, Director, ΝΕΟΝ and Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Organized by NEON
Sepolia metro station is on Line 2 (red) and is a ten-minute walk from the former Public Tobacco Factory. If you walk about around the same amount of time but in the opposite direction, you will find yourself at the municipal sports center of Sepolia, which was transformed earlier this year to honor Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA (basket) superstar who grew up in this area.
In the mood to visit even more interesting museums in Athens? then take a look below