These Photos Capture Athens' Underground Queer Scene
Based in Athens, Greek visual artist George Kanis has been capturing pockets of the LGBTQIA+ scene in the capital city. Scarlet heels, PVC, nudity and black boots – these are some of the visual motifs of Athen’s underbelly, where the queer community is blooming. Across his images, Kanis’ portraiture leans into dark, fetish stylings; the use of strong contrasts and lighting resulting in a raw kind of portraiture that maintains a primal feel.
For queer travellers, zigzagging across the world can come with its troubles. Below, Kanis walks Trippin through his photos and the queer scene in Athens, touching upon what to expect in the Greek capital if you’re travelling there, and how he’s using his art as a tool to stand up against oppression.
How would you describe Athens and its underground scene to someone who has never experienced it?
Athens is a dark hole full of magic energy and unique individual people who keep the underground scene [alive] with passion and love. It’s a community that refuses to compromise and fit into labels and norms, that support each other and fight next to each other for equality. It’s always welcoming to new people but you have to be true to who you are, otherwise you don’t even stand a chance to party with us and obviously never will become part of this family. So either you're gonna love this city or you're gonna hate it. Either way, it's a city full of surprises and most of the time doesn’t even make sense.
You’ve said in the past that art is chaos and freedom is coexisting in harmony. Is this a reflection of Athens too?
Athens has always had this chaotic vibe, this dark energy that pulls you down [and] destroys your dreams, murders your friends by authorities and the state, never gives you an opportunity to evolve or to be accepted. You're always the freak show, the one that needs to be killed if you are different from the patriarchal role model. So this became my main inspiration: I wanted to deconstruct this role model and implant something new in its position. It’s like an ongoing war, it’s endless! But in this chaos we found our way to coexist with harmony, enjoy and love and respect ourselves and be active in the society on our own terms. Therefore I said in the past that, in my work, chaos and freedom coexist in harmony. It’s the mirror of my reality and the society I live in.
Do you think art has the power to change Greek society?
Through my projects I want to break down boundaries and role models. I want to destroy the structure of this unethical and Palaeolithic society who live in fear under the threat of the church, the authorities and the state. I wanna scream to their face we are normal, we are beautiful and we are here. We have, and we demand, the same right as you have. This city is also ours and we're gonna live our lives the way we choose and we like!
How has the underground queer scene in Athens influenced your work and aesthetic?
To be honest, not a lot. I started painting, taking pictures quite young so there was no such [thing] as a queer scene or, let me rephrase it, it wasn’t a thing for Athens. I remember going out looking punk but with my skirts and my high heels, and even those who are now part of the queer scene in Athens make fun of me etc. So back [in] the days it was our reality, [it was] way, way harder and extremely dangerous. In this ugly sentence there is some beauty in it, because nowadays it’s way more different, more acceptable and more easy to be a queer person in Athens but still it's halfway there. My aesthetics were shaped by the punks, the squatters and the club scene of Athens.
What would you say is distinctly unique to the queer underground scene in Athens apart?
Well we are poor as a country, we don’t have the education or the spaces of free expression as they do abroad, so people who are part of the queer community they are authentic. They represent their selves and their beliefs. They don’t do it imitating other people's social life or aesthetics, they're just being their selves. Of course I meet unique people worldwide, but it’s just the vibe in Athens that feels so fresh and so unique and it makes sense we’ve struggled and suffered for years so now everything feels fresh. It’s not just a party scene, it’s a family accepting and supporting each other. It’s always fun and welcoming.
Who are the figures and collectives pushing the scene forward?
I don’t think I [can] stick out anyone, everyone is putting the same effort in the scene. We are all equal and we see each other like this. Maybe this is why I see the queer scene in Athens [as] so unique and special when I compare it to other scenes. Of course [there] were and still are some leading figures, but they always play the role of inspiration or just empowering the movement!
For someone who may be new to the scene, do you have any tips on navigating it?
The only tip is just do you, be you and you're gonna be surprised [by] how many friends you're gonna meet, and how welcome you're gonna feel by our community.