Objects as Portals
: Material Engagement and the Arts as a Catalyst for Social Change. Reflecting on the Kapodistrian Orphanage and Aegina Prison

  • Eleni Vlachaki

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Traumatic events in recent history, culminating in the Greek Civil War, marked and divided Greek society. As a consequence, the Kapodistrian Orphanage and Aegina Prison stands empty, caught between our historical associations of its ‘illustrious’ beginnings as a charitable institution/ educational and cultural centre, and our living memory of its recent past as a prison.

In the belief that an inherit difficulty in accepting the dual identity of the Kapodistrian building may be a silent obstacle standing between its past and its future, I set off to explore, through the direct involvement of the local community, the building’s recent history. An objective of this practice was to accept the historical significance of both the Kapodistrian Orphanage and the Aegina Prison and to stimulate new interest for its restoration and reuse. The approach to this endeavour was based on my experience as a practicing artist and the belief that material objects and practices can, through first-hand exposure, facilitate our connection with our past, our immediate environment, and also with each other.

As part of the practice, an exhibition was organised in January 2018, in the Historical and Folklore Museum of the island. It featured handcrafted objects made by the inmates of the Aegina Prison, interviews with the residents of the island, as well as extracts from books and archival material. This event generated public interest, both locally and nationally. After a series of demands, this culminated in the decision of the Greek Ministry of Culture to resume works on the historic building.

What mediated between me as the researcher/curator and the people I met was the undisputed reality of a wide-range of objects made by the inmates of the Aegina Prison, and that still exist in Aegina households. Through these objects, as I hope to demonstrate over the course of this written account, complex relations were mediated between the present and the past, the inside and the outside of the building, and the private and the social spheres of the local community.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsWilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust
SupervisorDominic Smith (Supervisor) & Mary Modeen (Supervisor)


  • Aegina Prison
  • Kapodistrian Orphanage
  • memory
  • material engagement
  • Material culture

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