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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Sketching Thessaloniki (and Videos from the Event I was Actually Here For)

My watercolour and ink sketches of the architecture and landscapes ot Thessaloniki, as well as some videos from the YEUF project national Greek event.

I was honestly a bit afraid to come to Greece again. I've been once before, to Athens and as a solo, female traveller, I can only describe my experience of street harassment as appalling. Of all the countries in the EU (I have been to all of them), the cat-calling and sexual harassment was unquestionably the worst in Athens. It was not just the frequency but also the severity of incidents, including men following me for 5 minutes costantly asking me where I was going, another man dropping his shopping and swearing at me, a third leered towards me in attempt to kiss me. I went back to my hotel the moment it got dark because I didn't feel safe. Thankfully on this trip to the second biggest city, Thessaloniki, the street harassment was far less frequent and when it happened, they always shouted at me in Greek - I don't know why but it felt less intimidating when I don't know what they were saying. Because of this previous experience and my fear of being a "sitting duck" in public spaces, I only made 1 sketch in-situ (I needed something to do whilst waiting until the check-in time for my accommodation) and the rest were made from photographs. This is a bit of a shame, since the weather was good enough to make sketches outside and I enjoy the feeling of "grounding" in a place that on-site sketching gives you. But, it's also important to feel safe and comfortable, so photographs it was.

This trip, was part of my work as the communications consultant for the YEUF project mobilising young voters for the EU elections. In all honesty, I only needed to be here for 2 nights, but since the flights were cheapest on Mondays, the accommodation was ridiculously cheap and at the time of booking I didn't know if I would be still staying with friends or back in my own flat - I decided to go for an entire week. My aim was to produce 2 sketches every day (14 in total), which I managed to achieve, although 1 day I managed 3 and another I only managed 1, it averaged out over the course of the week.

Thessaloniki is a city of juxtapositions; the ruins of ancient architecture embedded within the breeze-block urban sprawl, adorned with a healthy smattering of street art and grafitti (a lot of it very political, with a particular focus on the conflict in Gaza).

One moment you could be looking at a Byzantine ruin or an Orthodox Greek church, the next moment Soviet-esque appartment blocks and a desolate building site home to a collective of stray cats, followed by a statue of Alexander the Great or an industrial dockyard crane. There is no segregation by area, you will find one contrasting element next to another in an endless melange of juxtaposed visions. I tried to capture the diversity of this vibrant city on the 14 sketches I produced during my week here.

Despite the lack of beaches, the sea front was a dominating part of the city, constantly bustling with locals and visitors strolling along the sea front. Peppered along the sky line, the container ships and dockyard cranes emphasised the industrial nature of this city.

When I googled "things to do in Thessaloniki" before I arrived, I found a bunch of tourist websites which claimed that the most interesting thing to do was to go and look at the "White Tower" (second sketch above) and it was nice enough that I sketched it, but there was loads of other stuff to see and do, including a brilliant modern art museum. Admittedly, I was working (remotely) every day, but I went out for a few hours each day to see an art gallery or something architecturally interesting. (There are also loads of history museums but I am not as interested).

One of my former coleagues, who lived in Thessaloniki advised me to go visit the Byzantine Castle because the "best views" could be seen over the city. She wasn't wrong. I also made a couple of ink sketches of the walls.

These two sketches were of dilapidated / ram-shackle buildings (a favourite subject of mine).

I was resisting drawing a church (mainly because the majority of them had extremely complicated structures and I knew it would take a greater level of concentration than I currently have at my disposal) but on the final day I found a relatively simple church to draw.

I'm not really sure if I am happy with how this one turned out. I saw this torn and tattered flag flying above a mottled wall and, given my recent research into the politics of flags, I decided I wanted to capture it. I used a black ink pen which bleeds when watercolour is added. The result is very mesy (I also got black ink all over my fingers because the pen was leaking) - i'm not sure if that adds to or detracts from the sketch?

Ecogenia YEUF Project Event

The reason I want to include this short clip from my presentation at the event is because I have spent a lot of time considering the messaging I was (at least attempting) to deliver. Afterwards, the cofounder came up to me and said that this particular excerpt was extremely powerful and hd moved her husband who was also in the audience. I responded that I have been asked many times why I (as a British person) am working on a project to mobilise young voters for the EU elections - this messaging is the only convincing way I can justify my role in the project.

Impromptu Interview About Flags with a dual-national Greek-American

This interview was not in anyway planned. I hadn't met this cofounder of Ecogenia before the event in Thessaloniki (I had met the other cofounder previously) and I was interested to learn that she was a dual national Greek-American. We were discussing flags, as she had brought a Greek flag to the event for the group photo. She told me that as she was brought up in the States, she had to swear allegiance to the flag at school on a daily basis. I asked her if she would be able to answer some questions on camera as this seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain some insights for my MA research project which is looking at intersectional identities and individual's relationships with flags.


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