A flag artwork featured in an exhibition addressing femicide and domestic violence at the Consulate General of Greece in New York was removed from display on Monday, December 18, by order of the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Swapping the country’s signature blue and white stripes for pink and red, “Flag” (2021) was created by Brooklyn-based visual artist Georgia Lale, who used multicolored bed sheets donated by women living in Greece to reimagine the national flag. The work was featured in a solo exhibition Neighborhood Guilt calling attention to the country’s rising rates of femicide and domestic violence. After opening at the consulate last Friday, December 15, the show was supposed to run until January 31 as the inaugural exhibition for a bimonthly series spotlighting six Greek artists based in New York. But less than a couple days after the exhibition’s opening night, far-right Greek politician Dimitris Natsiou, who heads the country’s ultra-religious Niki party, decried Lale’s work in parliament, referring to the art as a “literal rag” on X.

“Our flag is blue and white and it can be dyed red only on one occasion: with the blood of our heroes during national struggles,” Natsiou announced t0 the 300-member house on Sunday, December 17, to the vocal approval of his party members, Associated Press reported.

Additionally, at approximately 4:30am that same day, authorities responded to and extinguished a fire set with an “accelerant liquid” in a planter outside the consulate. No injuries were reported and no arrests have been made while an investigation into the incident is ongoing. It is unclear at this stage whether the fire is connected to the controversy. Hyperallergic has contacted the Consulate General of Greece and the Ministry for comment.

Following’s Natsiou’s statements and the fire, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Gerapetritis sent an order to the Consulate General to remove the artwork from view and the work was deinstalled on Monday. Accusing the minister of “censorship,” Lale removed their remaining artwork — a quilt honoring femicide victims in Greece — from the exhibition in protest.

“The Greek Consulate General in New York and its independent Cultural Committee invited me to show my work at the Consulate,” the Athens-born artist told Hyperallergic. “I proposed to show two art works that address the uprising phenomena of femicide and domestic violence in Greece.”

Supported by the consulate and the advisory committee, the proposed works were both made from repurposed bedsheets donated by women living in Greece “under the condition that they have used them to rest their bodies and dream of a world where women will not be afraid to chase their dreams and stand up for their rights,” Lale said.

For “Neighborhood Guilt” (2023), the artist created a nearly six-foot long quilt featuring 22 patchwork pink and red houses, each dedicated to a femicide victim who was killed in Greece 2022.

Declaring their “undivided support” for Lale and opposing the minister’s decision, the exhibition’s advisory arts committee members Eirini Linardaki, Natasha Katerinopoulou, Lola Koutoudis, and Panos Tsagaris said in a collective statement shared with Hyperallergic that the artist’s work was chosen “for its strong symbolism.”

“Unfortunately, the work has been misinterpreted and instrumentalized for political purposes, which have nothing to do with the social issue for which it was created,” the committee members said, adding that they hope to continue the artist exhibition series and remain “optimistic that the local artistic community will continue to support artistic freedom and creation.”

Georgia Lale, “Neighborhood Guilt” (2023) donated bed sheets, sewing thread, and fabric ink, 57 inches x 38 inches

On social media earlier this week, users expressed further support for Lale, denouncing the minister’s orders and calling on the consulate to redisplay the work. While some users disapproved of the artwork and accused the artist of so-called “desecration,” others disagreed, defending Lale’s right to freedom of expression and the work’s important message.

“We need more art like this that generates thought and change in society. This isn’t about ‘flag desecration.’ It’s about raising awareness through art of an important societal issue,” New York poet and lawyer Effie Pasagiannis commented on the consulate’s Instagram.

Nassos Iliopoulos, a Greek parliament representative and member of New Left party, also came to the artwork’s defense, reiterating in a statement that “if our country’s flag does not contain victims of domestic violence, if it does not contain murdered women, then it does not contain anyone.”

“I am glad that the independent Cultural Committee and the Greek Consulate gave my art a platform and they have been supportive through this ordeal,” Lale said. “The responsibility falls on the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgie Gerapetritis that censored my work to satisfy the demands of a far right party.”

Maya Pontone (she/her) is a Staff News Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from Northern New Jersey, she currently resides in Brooklyn, where she covers daily news, both within and outside New York City....

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