Graphic arts and typography flourished in some states of the so called real socialism, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. This situation seems strange nowadays especially if we realize that advertising – being the driving force behind graphic design – was practically non-existent in those countries.
Polish designers took the lead in poster art and their work was recognized internationally. The peak of their efforts was the foundation of the Warsaw International Poster Biennale, a perfectly working institution of high quality standards that enjoys a large international clientele even nowadays.
The Suffocating Caryatid received a honorable diploma at the 7th International Poster Bienale in Warsaw in 1978. I had the honor of showing three works and was the only greek artist participating. I insisted on my origin to be displayed although I officially belonged to the Swedish group, because I lived there at the time. I was being, indeed, extremely patriotic but I considered it as a matter of personal importance.
The central theme of the '78 Biennale, which was “Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Civilization” and the issues of environment pollution in Athens, which reached catastrophic levels seriously damaging the substance of many ancient monuments, were corresponding directly. At the same time, the public opinion outside Greece was bringing pressure upon the greek government to take measures against pollution, forcing some action.
Sensitized on environmental issues I decided to work on the subject although I knew that I didn't have any experience (I was just in the second year of my studies). Nevertheless, I had my share of experience with Athen's smog since its beginnings (at that time I was doing my military service there). I was enraged at the thought of the damage caused to people – who at the same time were collectively responsible for a large part of the problem – and monuments. The damage caused by pollution in ten years was larger than the ravages of ages “ … “.
In this context anyone could understand the meaning of Seferi's lines. This was the message that I wanted to transcribe using a visual code that could be understood by everyone.
We were at the beginning of a new era. More and more people were thinking seriously about the effects of environmental pollution and were starting to react by expressing their dismay. On the one hand, the use of the gas mask, indicating air pollution, was not overused and on the other it had a clear and comprehensive semiological character.
But the success of this certain image lies mainly in the drawing method and the medium itself. The graphite pencil created the appropriate dramatic mood with 'hard' contrasts. Its thick trace and especially the background, evokes the notion of asphyxiation to the viewers, making them feel as if inhaling the thick, heavy, polluted air.
The figure of Caryatid, clenched by the weight of the construction she supports, offers the perfect identification for the average viewer, who feels trapped and unable to react properly, if not at all, to environmental issues.
The necessary compository elements of the image (counterpoints, harmony, rhythmic repetitions) are all included in the figure Caryatid per se and the message remains up to date as the problems persist or get even worse.
The summer fires of 2007 that threatened to destroy the site of ancient Olympia brought public attention to the 'Suffocating Caryatid' once again – 30 years after it was made – in the general context of environmental damage and cultural treasures.
Expanding Caryatid's message in a metaphorical and symbolic sense, we could say that the issue it addresses doesn't remain only on environmental problems but has more to do with the substance of western civilization which is founded on the ancient Greek ideals. These ideals are muted nowadays to the point of suffocation and alienated beyond recognition.