Weaving Histories: Margaret Kenna and Anafi

27 June–11 September, 2021
State of Concept Athens

IN COLLABORATION WITH: State of Concept Athens & The Benaki Museum.

CURATED BY: iLiana Fokianaki and Phenomenon (I. Kerenidis & P. Pepe)

WITH: Margaret Kenna, Maria Varela, Zoe Hatziyannaki, Hellen Ascoli

State of Concept and Association Phenomenon are very proud to announce the exhibition ‘Weaving Histories: Margaret Kenna and Anafi’. The exhibition is also organised in tandem with the Benaki Museum Athens, and is supported by the British Council and the British School at Athens.

The show is focusing on the work of Margaret Kenna, who is an anthropologist and researcher, and has devoted most of her academic work to the island of Anafi, her research begun in May 1966 and continues to this day. Kenna has been looking into the island and the way of life of the islanders for more than fifty years. In 2006, the Municipality of Anafi declared her an honorary citizen of the island. The anthropologist in 2019 decided to donate all her research material to the British School at Athens, a donation that has not been completed due to the global pandemic of SARS COVID-19. Prior to this, Kenna has donated a great part of her photographic archive to the Benaki Museum in Athens. Audiences will have the opportunity to see a small part of her diligent work and research, for the first time. This project aims to bring together, the colossal work of an anthropologist with contemporary artistic practices, with the aim to direct towards care-fully enacted dialogues between anthropology and visual arts.

Kenna landed in Anafi for the first time in the spring of 1966, eleven months before the dictatorship of the colonels was imposed in the country. Her research is multifaceted and includes many aspects of island life, offering a vivid portrait of change in a small island society in the dawn of globalization, a sort of micro-geographical portrait of the rapid alterations that occurred in the whole of Greece —and the world— between 1960 and 1990. The exhibition gave the public the opportunity to see unique documents and recordings of life on the remote island, which describe the different changes that occurred in that small society in the pre and post-dictatorship periods until today. It is a unique perspective, on a miniature and unique example of social organisation and how it has radically developed through the decades, posing many questions in relation to tradition, the ties between citizens in small communities, the role of women in them, but also decentralisation, modernisation and the isolation in remote islands such as Anafi, its citizens known in greek as ‘akrites’ (ακρίτες).

Three artists were invited to respond to Kenna’s work and produce new commissioned works that was presented for the first time together with fragments of Kenna’s archive. Hellen Ascoli, Zoe Hatziyannaki and Maria Varela, have each focused on specific aspects of the varied research trajectories Kenna’s academic work has taken throughout these last fifty years.

The exhibition was accompanied by a publication with texts by iLiana Fokianaki, Margaret Kenna, Piergiorgio Pepe & Iordanis Kerenidis a.o.

For more information please visit the State of Concept’s exhibition website.



Exhibiting parts of the work and archive of social anthropologist Margaret Kenna is an incredible privilege for us. Her half-a-century research with a focus on Anafi is resolutely unique in its kind, in terms of depth and duration and for the central involvement and continuous contribution of the islanders, migrants and exiles into the research produced. Her work has not simply revealed a pre-existing history, it has not just shed light in the corners of a pre-existing space, but it has actively participated in the collective production of contemporary Anafi as a spacetime configuration. In return, the island as studied and reconfigured through her research as well as the involvement of the Anafiots in her work, are arguably constutitive elements in the construction of Margaret Kenna as an anthropologist, as a feminist, as a woman. 

In the current context, where space, and in particular public space, is moulded by authorities as a dress-rehearsal to lab-test the boundaries of their regulatory powers, Margaret Kenna’s work is a powerful reminder that  “space is not a collection of pre-existing points set out as a container for matter to inhabit” [2], it is not a natural pre-existing phenomenon but it is a constant dialogue and negotiation by specific bodies, in a given territory, over a certain time. As Margaret Kenna herself highlights, “it seemed that some of the opinions I had voiced in the sixties resulted in the eighties in confidences about left-wing views, and in being shown an archive of glass negatives from the commune of political exiles on Anafi in the thirties” [3]. In other words, without the trust of the island’s community not only in the solidity of her scientific work but also in her personal progressive views, one is left to wonder if that important page of European history would have ever been known, researched and communicated. Broadly paraphrasing Sara Ahmed, by “exposing” that history, Margaret Kenna contributed to the “posing” of that history. With her extensive body of research, her articles, books and even booklets for visitors, all systematically developed with the involvement of the islanders, Margaret Kenna has made places and histories re-emerge, motivating visitors and Anafiots alike to venture into new or obliterated pathways and monopatia, encouraging ever new circulation, new flows of bodies and ideas to contribute to the construction of the island as we see it today.

On a more personal level, Phenomenon, the biennial contemporary art project we have organised on the island since 2015, also owes its grounding to Margaret Kenna’s work. When we arrived on Anafi as tourists, we were first exposed to the myth of Apollo narrating the revelation of the island and to its embodiment in the form of the ancient statue of the god, looted from Anafi and still on show at the British Museum, outside of Greece, and now sadly outside of the European Union. In other words, unsurprisingly, our entry point into the cultural context of the island was through the canon of ancient Greece and its patriarchal rendition in the shape of the ancient male body. Thanks to the encounter with Margaret Kenna’s work and a continuing dialogue with the islanders, Phenomenon’s research has ventured into the several hidden, invisible or forgotten layers of Anafi, inspiring the works of several participating artists and scholars. It was through her work and her infallible advice that we could work on many of the histories, truths and fictions of this unassuming island, from the adventures of the Muse of Anafi statue to Electra Apostolou’s confinement on the island as an exile, from the struggle of Florence, ruler of Namfio, to the story of Rita (the daughter of a migrant Anafiot who on Thursday July 21st 1966, at the port beach, wore a “bikini for swimming and sunbathing and this was known at the village by evening”). It was through her gaze on Anafi that Phenomenon could attempt to negotiate more generally issues of (in)visibility, (re)making of histories and production of space and time. During the third edition of the biennale in 2019, Margaret Kenna’s video work “Far from God” was shown publicly in the lower square of Anafi. This digitized VHS tape revealed a collection of photographs from her Anafi fieldwork from the 1960s to the 1980s with a soundtrack made of her own recordings on the island. This video screening was a moment where many Anafiots, who started recognising their relatives on the screen, the contemporary art crowd of Phenomenon and other visitors, while experiencing those images in very different ways, could nevertheless actively share a certain space, at a given time. And this was Margaret’s gift to all of us!

We feel immense gratitude towards Margaret and her work and we feel so honored that she accepted iLiana’s and our invitation, to show parts of this important archive at State of Concept, Athens, which we would also like to greatly thank for making this project possible. This archive is so much more than a set of documents to be displayed. It is the collaborative work of Margaret Kenna and the Anafiots alike, it is part of what Anafi has come to be. Through its intra-actively production, the archive offers a situated material-discursive articulation that is very poignantly actualized and furthered by the artworks of Hellen Ascoli, Zoe Chatzigiannaki and Maria Varela, many of which have been specifically produced for the exhibition.

Iordanis Kerenidis and Piergiorgio Pepe

[1] Margaret Kenna, Greek Island Life, 2017, Sean Kingston Publishing, p. 16
[2] Karen Barad, Meeting the universe halfway, 2007, Duke University Press
[3] Margaret Kenna, Greek Island Life, 2017, Sean Kingston Publishing, p. 201