Greek squiggles benefit victims of violence

From Voices, 7:00 am on 12 November 2018
Sofia Athineou

Sofia Athineou Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Sofia Athineou is a friendly, bubbly woman with a big personality that matches her big wavy brown hair.

The Greek artist has carved a career in New Zealand out of clay, glass and squiggles.

Last week, Sofia showed me around the NZ Sculpture OnShore exhibition on Auckland’s North Shore, which includes her work 'Zoe'.

NZ Sculpture OnShore is open from 3 - 18 November this year, and chairperson Sally Dewar hopes it will raise even more money for Women’s Refuge than the 2016 exhibition did – $135,000.

Greek glass sculpture artist Sofia Athineou

Greek glass sculpture artist Sofia Athineou Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

As a kid, Sofia Athineou used to draw wavy shapes on a page, but little did she know that in Aotearoa she would make her own Greek marks on the sculpture scene.

She migrated to New Zealand more than a decade ago, after falling in love with a Kiwi bloke and had to find a new career here – glass casting.

“The first time I played with glass, I fell in love with it,” she says.

The process from clay to plaster to cast to glass seems complicated and a lot of work.

“But when I open the kiln eventually, the plaster crumbles and the glass is born, just like a baby,” she laughs excitedly.

At the edge of one cliff overlooking Rangitoto sits Sofia's biggest outdoor sculpture titled 'Zoe' – which translates to mean ‘life’ in Greek.

The colourful glass squiggles tower in the air while sitting on a wooden plinth screwed into a metal base. For this artist, the work tells an important story.

“It’s a triptych, it’s a group of three works and life. Each one represents the lifeline of each one of us. Sometimes life is good, sometimes it’s bad and altogether life looks sort of beautiful.”

Sofia hopes her work will inspire people to treat others with more love, empathy and understanding.

“Generally, with more love, we can achieve more understanding and at the end of the day we are all one energy, one love, and one life.”

Zoe sculpture by Sofia Athineou

Zoe sculpture by Sofia Athineou Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Sofia's message is fitting given that NZ Sculpture OnShore is organised and put on by over 400 volunteers and the Friends of Women’s Refuges Trust, among others.

A large part of the proceeds go towards domestic violence victims.

The event was dreamed up in 1994 when a small group of local women decided there had to be a better way to fundraise than on the street.

Their first exhibit a year later was in a residential garden, but by 2004 the event had grown so much it had to be moved to its current location.

The chair of NZ Sculpture OnShore, Sally Dewar, said this year is the 12th biennial exhibition and over 80 artworks were selected among a deluge of applications.

“They are all large-scale artworks and they are made especially for this exhibition so they have never been seen before,” she says.

“We have got the artworks and people wanting to exhibit here and wanting to see the artworks here in a relaxing environment. So it’s not like a gallery where people might feel a little intimidated going in,” Sally says.

“People find this a really family-friendly event and very relaxed. It is about the art but so many people are here due to the cause we support the New Zealand Women’s Refuge.”

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The last exhibition in 2016 raised $135,000 for Women’s Refuge to help the 16,000 women and children who seek help from the charity.

Sally hopes this year they will raise more which is likely as each time the event is held there’s more interest nationwide.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of death and injury to women and also leads to major health problems plus it can happen to anyone.

Women’s Refuge needs more support to provide nice stuff for women and children leaving their homes in the middle of the night with nothing, Sally says.

“This time, we are raising money for some of the more peripheral projects and things that government funding can’t extend to.”

“Things like whiteware, new linen or a ‘fresh start’ kit help these women get back on their feet.”

Preparations began eighteen months ago so it is a long-term commitment for some like Sally.

“There are dozens of intriguing and incredible sculptures, but one that stands out is a giant stone fist sculpture with a small bronze bird clenched inside it.”

The sculpture she's referring to is 'Fist that Knew' by Joshua Olley. Someone has already paid the $85,000 price tag for it.

Another crowd favourite is Bernie Harfleet and Donna Turtle Sarten's ‘Why Don’t You Just Leave?’ – a maze made entirely out of donated wooden pallets.

From the air, the maze spells out the word REFUGE and people have to actually walk through all of the letters to get to the other side.

Sofia is happy that her work often gets picked for this event.

“I’m privileged and lucky to feel at this stage of my life that New Zealand is also my home as I have so many amazing friends here and have had so many opportunities from the very beginning.”