BiographyPersonal ExhibitionsCollective ExhibitionsBibliographyAbout Me

Irini Gonou
Irini Gonou


Education and Professional Experience

Born in 1955 in Athens.
1974-1978: Graduated from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, sculpture section at the workshops Couturier and Delahaye. .
1974-1978: Graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, volume section at the workshop of Renée Bossaert.
1982-1984: worked as a workshop assistant at the section of ceramic sculpture at the Ecole Nat. Sup.des Arts Décoratifs.
Since 2011 teaches seminars on the Mediterrannean scripts at the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art in Athens.
She lives and works in Athens

Selected Personal Exhibitions

2016:La prophecie d`Eyisichthon, Galerie Altoe, Wittersdorf, France
2016: Lest we forget how fragile we are, Nitra Gallery, Greece
2015: Whispering Reeds in Woven Gardens, Mohammed Ali Museum, Greece
2014: Whispering Reeds in Woven Gardens, Imaret, Kavala, Greece
2014: Magic Scripts, B.R.C.I.D. Bergen, Norway
2013: Talismans, Martinos Gallery, Athens, Greece
2013: The Sheltering Word, HCH at Columbia University, NY, USA
2012: Terra Mater, Bazaios Tower, Naxos, Greece
2012: A Tale of Two Cultures, Lahd Gallery, London, UK
2011: Tholiai te kai apoptygmata, Atrion Gallery, Thessaloniki, Greece
2010: Arcadia in situ, Arcadian Museum of Art and History, Levidi, Greece
2010: In parallel, Art Gallery, Alexandroupolis, Greece
2008: Al-Khatt, the magic script, i) Museum of Islamic Arts of Athens
2008: ii) Alatza Imaret, Thessaloniki
2006: Diosimeia, Art Gallery, Alexandroupolis, Greece
2005: Fylachta (talismans), Skoufa Gallery, Athens
2005: Diosimeia, Alma Theater, Athens
2002: Ecritures paralleles, Espace Periple, Bruxelles
2002: Hapax genomenon, Athens
2000: Zeuxis Gallery, Thessaloniki
1998: Art Athina 6’98, Skoufa Gallery, Athens
1997: Parallel natures, Wigmore Fine Arts Gallery, London
1997: Εspace Periple, Brussels
1997: Di Mitir Gi (De Meter Gaia) Trigono Gallery, Athens
1994: Gallery Οpus 39, Nicosia, Cyprus
1992: Skoufa Gallery, Athens
1988: Kamara Gallery, Monemvasia, Greece
1987: Skoufa Gallery, Athens
1985: Galerie Melnikow, Heidelberg, Germany
1982: Galerie Ikuo, Paris
1980: Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens


Selected Collective Exhibitions

2015: ArtInternational Istanbul, Nitra Gallery,Turkey
2014: Sculptures du Sud, Villa Datris, L’isle sur la Sorgue, France
2013: 6th International Painting Symposium, Luxor, Egypt
2013: 13th Kavafia, Art Center Al Jezira, Cairo, Egypt
2013: C.Cavafy, Zografismena, V.&M. Theoharakis Arts Foundation, Athens
2012: Summer Olympics Art Exhibition, Lahd gallery, London
2012: Words, Words, Words! Beton 7, Out of the Box Intermedia, Athens
2012: All red, Martinos Art Gallery, Athens   
2011: 20 portraits X 20 artists, Vimamen, Athinais Art space, Athens  
2011:Memories of the Sponge fishing in Aegina, Historical Museum of Aegina
2010: In-script, America, Hellenic American Union, Athens, Greece
2010: OZMOZ I, Trigono Art Gallery, Athens, Greece
2010: Johannes Gennadius and his World, at the Gennadius Library, Athens
2010: Tracing Istanbul, Theological School of Chalki, Istanbul, Turkey
2010: OZMOZ II, La Maison du Chevalier, Carcassonne, France
2009: Material Links, Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki, Greece
2009: Notes for a Tree, Municipal Cultural Center of Athens”Melina”
2008: Material Links, i) MoCA, Shanghai, China, ii) Technopolis, Athens
2007: A tribute to Dionysios Solomos, Pinakothiki Messologhiou, Greece
2007: Ex Convento Ss Cosma e Damiano, Venice, Italy
2006: Lacoste Project12.12, Benaki Museum, Athens
2005: Meteques, Auberge de France, Rhodes
2000: 17 Griechischen Kuenstlerrn, Mainz-Drais, Frankfort
1999: Art on the paper, Zefxis Gallery, Thessaloniki
1998: Focalizations du Regard, Building of the W.E.U, Brussels
1998: Art Athina 6 `98: Skoufa Gallery, Athens
1996: Is there an age for the art? Municipal Pinakothiki Larnaca, Cyprus
1995: Gend Flanders Expo: Lineart, Gallery Triskel, Belgium
1995: A tribute to Greco, National Pinakothiki of Athens
1993: Clay and the plastic creation, European Cultural Centre of Delphi
1984: La terre, Maison des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1983: Centre Culturel Georges Pompidou, Concours de Sculpture, Paris
1982: XIIème Biennale de Paris, Centre Culturel Hellénique, Paris
1977: Maison des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1976: Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris


French Ministry of Culture,
Musee Ernest Renan, France
Museum of Islamic Arts of Athens, Greece
Historical Archive of the National Bank of Greece
Museum of Contemporary Art of Florina, Greece
Anthropological Museum of Ptolemais, Greece
Frissiras Museum, Athens, Greece
The Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, NY, USA
Egyptian Ministry of Culture
Mohammed Ali Research Center

Selected Reviews and Publications

Medieval Sai Project
Medieval Sai Project
Caspian Arts Foundation
Iris Kritikou, Tholiai te kai apoptygmata, text for the exhibition, 2011
Nikos Grigorakis, Arcadia in situ, preface of the catalog of the exhibition, Militos Editions, 2009 (Greek text)
Iris Kritikou, Johannes Gennadius and his world, The Gennadius Library, 2010
Iris Kritikou, In-scribe, the catalogue of the exhibition, Hellenic American Union, 2010
Iris Kritikou, Material Links, the catalogue of the exhibition, Elix editions, 2008
43 th Dimitria of Thessaloniki, October, Al-khatt, the magic script at Alatza imaret, catalogue of the festival, 2008
Vassilios Gakis, catalogue of the exhibition Al-khatt, the magic script at Alatza Imaret
Bassilios Papageorgopoulos, mayor of Thessaloniki, catalogue of the exhibition Al-khatt, the magic script at Alatza Imaret, 2008
Thomas Tamvakos, Al-khatt, the magic script, magazine Jazz&Jazz, issue 181, April, 2008
Charis Kambouridis, Orthodox nostalgy and Islamic sacred script, journ.Ta nea, 27 Feb. 2008
Iris Kritikou, Museum of Islamic Art: From the Magic script to 1001 nights,, 2008
Andreas Georgiadis, I mnimi pou dioxnei ti lithi,, volume 12, 2008
Huda Smitshuijen AbiFares, Al-khatt, the magic script, Katt Network for the Arabic Typography, , 2008
Anna Ballian, The script at the Islamic world, Al-khatt, the magic script, catalogue of the exhibition at the Benaki Museum of Islamic Arts, 2008
Mina Moraitou, The practice of divination in the Islamic world,
Al-khatt, the magic script, catalogue of the exhibition at the Benaki Museum of Islamic Arts, 2008
Eleni Kondyli-Bassoukou, preface of the catalogue Al-khatt, the magic script, Benaki Museum of Islamic Arts, 2008
Iris Kritikou, A tribute to Dionysios Solomos, Mikri arktos editions, 2007
Takis Mavrotas, Visual Inscriptions (eikastikes katagrafes)1986-2005, Poets of colouring and drawing, Kastaniotis edit., 2006
Iris Kritikou, Once upon a time, Penelope Delta…, catalogue of the exhibition, edit. The Athens College, 2006
Andreas Georgiadis, Diosimeia, the visual and musical approach of a myth,, Mai 2006
Nikos Dontas, Searching Naxos in mythological Greece, journ.I Kathimerini, 23 April 2006
Giorgos Kiousis, a myth pursuit on the Zas mountain, journ. Eleftherotypia, 11Mars 2006
Thomas Tamvakos, Diosimeia, a three-dimensional approach of a myth, mag. Jazz & Jazz, issue160-161, 2006
Diosimeia, the three-dimensional research of a myth, Pantelias-Gonou-Andronikou, Kedros editions, book and CD, 2006
Iris Kritikou, Lacoste Project, catalogue of the exhibition, Benaki Museum, 2006
Haris Kambouridis, Sacred and Profane: Sights of the woman at the Contemporary Greek painting 1930-2005, Irini Gonou: femina amata, edit. Municipal Gallery of Chania, 2005
Takis Mavrotas, Giati den pairneis mia (asp)Irini Gonou?, magazine Vima-Life,journ. To Vima, 2005
Gamal Al Tahir, Irini Gonou, journ. Al Dafatan, issue 31, July 2005
Natassa markidou, the secret of art, catalogue of the exhibition Fylachta, Skoufa Gallery, 2005
Marina Athanasiadou, Meteques, catalogue of the exhibition, Le réseau des femmes artistes de la Méditerranée FAM, 2005
Charis Kambouridis, The art of the low pitches, journal Ta Nea, 16 Mar. 2005
Marina Kanakaki, 10 years of Greek Art: 1994-2004, edit. Gerolymatos Societies, 2004
Thaleia Stefanidou, Yper aporriton efharistion, preface text of the catalogue of the exhibition, Zefxis, Thessaloniki, 2000
Chryssa Nanou, eikastikoi vomoi gia tin gynaika parigoritria, journ. Agellioforos, 22 May 2000
Penny Oehaliotou, magazine House & Garden, March 1999
Katerina Tzavara, Parallel Natures, journal.Eleftherotypia, 7 Νοv.1998
N.Grigorakis, Greek ex-libris, Diatton editions, 1997
Αthina Shina , I.Gonou, M.Pantelias, mag. ΑRTI, issue 35, 1997
Dictionnary of the Greek artists, Melissa editions, 1997
Katerina Tzavara, Yes to the symbols no to the fashions, journ.Eleftherotypia, 8 Nov. 1997
Katerina Tzavara, The three dimensions of the art, interview, mag. Einai, issue337, 28 Oct. 1997
Dora Eliopoulou-Rogan, Irini Gonou: when metaphysics becomes art, mag. Living, issue 85, Oct. 1997
Athina Schina, Irini Gonou, Arti, issue35, 1997
Sophia Kazazi, Irini Gonou: sculptural constructions, mag. Entefktirio, fall 1996
Haris Livas, An astonishing couple, Athens News Agency, No 65, 4 June 1996
Sophia Kazazi, Greek Artists, 10 years of critics 1985-1995, Diagonios editions, Vol.2, 1996
Dora Eliopoulou-Rogan, the exhibitions of the month, mag. Living, April 1996
Charis Kambouridis, Gentle microcosms,journ. Ta Nea, 13 March 1996
Anna Grimani, With string, iron and imagination, mag. Metro, issue 5, Mar.1996
Maria Maragou, In the frame, journ. Kyriakatiki Eleftherotypia, 25 Feb.1996
Despina Savopoulou, Sculpture with pour material, journ. Eleftheros Typos, 23 Feb. 1996
Nikos Xydakis, Chrostiras, journ. I Kathimerini, 28 Feb. 1996
Katerina Tzavara, Ars longa, vita brevis, journ. Eleftherotypia, 16 Feb.1996
Katerina Tzavara, New-romantism, mag. Epsilon,issue 139,18 Dec1994
The Cyprus weekly, Irini Gonou-Opus 39, 17 Nov.1994
Takis Mavrotas, Clay and the plastic creation: Contemporary Greek artists, catalogue of the exhibition, Pinakothiki Pierridis, 1994
Machi Tratsa: The sculpture in female hands: Irini Gonou, journ. To Vima 6 Mar.1994
Takis Mavrotas, Glyptikes antiparatheseis, mag. Marie Claire, May 1993
Mary Machas, Neo-baroque fantasies, journal The Athenian, issue 235, 1993
Sofia Kazazi, The sculptural world of Irini Gonou, mag. Entefktirion, issue20, Sept.1992
Athina Schina, Irini Gonou, mag.Anti, 20 Mar.1992
Ilias Kanellis, Ex-Libris, mag. Idaniko Spiti, Apr.1992
Sofia Kazazi, Irini Gonou, mag. Eikastika, issue 36, Dec.1984
Stelios Lydakis, Irini Gonou: sculptor, journ. Vradyni, 15 Dec.1987
Dora Eliopoulou-Rogan, Critical notes, journ I kathimerini, 26 Nov.1987
Sophia Kazazi, Greek Artists, 10 years of critics 1974-1984, Diagonios editions, Vol.1, 1996
Rhein - Neckar Zeitung, Eine Griechin aus Paris, 13 Dec.1985
Maria Karavia, Porcelain Dolls, journ. Kathimerini, 27 Oct.1984
Centre Culturel Hellénique, Seize artistes grecs contemporains autour de la Biennale de Paris, catalogue, 1982
Héra Feloukatzi, Young greeks of the Paris12th Biennale, journ. Ta Nea, Oct.1982
Emannuel Mavromatis, The 12th Biennale of the young artists of Paris, mag. Eikastika, Apr. 1981
Adonis Bouloutzas, Contemporary Greek sculptors, mag. Sullektis, issue 70, Jan.1981
Olga Ioannou, The microcosme of Irini Gonou, mag. Epikaira, 11 Dec 1980
Efi Andreadi, Art critics, journ.To Vima, 5 Dec.1980
Dora Eliopoulou-Rogan, critical notes, journ. I kathimerini, 3 Dec.1980

About me

“…When confronted with the work of Irini Gonou, a surprise beckons. The formal qualities of her assemblages and installations, the muted colours, miniscule (for most illegible) writing, faded textures, aged materials and modest scale do not prepare the viewer (or should we say ‘mystic’?) for their impact. They do not evoke a set symbolic pantheon or correspond to the principles of art historical discourse. Instead, they operate on a level of embedded memory by tapping on the reserves of pre-secularised experience, when the world, as a whole and in its parts, was sacred. Gonou constructs a vocabulary of sacredness employing materials which are shared by many cultures, from the incantation bowls of Palestine to the sutras of desert oases along the Silk Road. It is these materials which enflame emotion and it is their spinning, weaving, dyeing, stitching, carving, wrapping, aging, scribbling upon – their manipulation by the artist – which envelope them in the guise of the supernatural. Unseen relics hide within parchment-encased parcels; unuttered prayers linger on erased calligraphy lines; unperformed magic lurks behind thin veils. The work awaits the viewer / mystic to unlock the explosive potential latent in its serene shape. There is nothing anecdotal in this; an undisclosed world is alluded to; the rivers of ancient traditions reach a confluence at our feet. Such work begs to be excavated rather than encountered in an art gallery. Shunning unearthing performances, Gonou opts for a context of historical architecture, lived-in space, where the dormant forces are focused rather than diluted through their association with the genii loci. The vaulted roofs, deep niches and pillared porticoes of Ottoman architecture embrace and augment her work’s potency. Not so much in the aesthetic sense, although the manipulation of natural light in historic buildings is eminently sympathetic; but mostly in the way a sound box resonates with the vibrations of a musical instrument’s chords. And what about beauty and the pleasure derived thereof? Perhaps here lies the deepest sense of beauty as a merging with what is sacred and unutterable, as an experience at once alarming and sublime which brings us back to the primeval terror of love”.

Whispering Reeds in Woven Gardens
Introduction, George Manginis, archaeologist, November 2014

“…Irini Gonou returns to her inner self, by looking for her own personal “garden”; a garden as a refuge, a “sheltered and secure” retreat; a private place away from the world, an inner space. Sculptures and assemblages of textile, text and talisman, are Gonou’s retreat. The element of nature is evident as the works are made of herbal dyed cotton and linen textiles, antique Turkish and Chinese silks and inscribed reeds are the common place of the widespread belief of supernatural protection. In many cultures script is believed to have a magical power and the written word is thought to provide protection and through the
reproduction of these beliefs Gonou manages to create a three dimensional space in which her being is safe, calm and can be regenerated. The calligraphy and the writing have a key role to her work, as “their deep consciousness of the religious, moral and magical association that words have accumulated over the centuries” as Mark Mazower notes about her work. Last but not least, she explores also the concept that cloth is believed to be a living thing; it records life, so the notion of memory and the passing of time are insinuated through the element of the thread‐ the weaving of the past, the present and the future. In Gonou’s work there is nothing that could be considered as a signifier for technology, as the artist agrees with Heidegger that technology is often an enemy to contemplation…”

Art International Istanbul, Aliki Tsirliagou, curator


Occasionally one comes across contemporary art of such power and conviction that one is forced to stop and take note. This was my experience encountering the work of Irini Gonou. These amulets and talismans, quill pens and costumes and faded photographs merge ancient and modern, Greek and Arabic, in an entirely new way, adroitly side-stepping minefields of clichés by homing in with precision on the enduring iconographic power of the handwritten word. Both Greece and the Middle East are in turmoil, but The Sheltering Word puts the violence of the headlines in a much longer and more intimate perspective. Around the rim of the Mediterranean, these troubled and crisis-ridden societies still have something to teach us about where to find sources of comfort in evil times, thanks to their deep consciousness of the religious, moral, and magical associations that words have accumulated over the centuries. As in this work, these associations adhere to concrete objects not to screens or electronic images: to emerge, they have to be given time for contemplation and reflection.
Making art out of these ancient handwritten scripts might seem to have come naturally to an artist who now teaches calligraphy at the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art in Athens, but the uniqueness of her approach should certainly not be taken for granted. The modern Greek nation-state was forged in repudiation of the Ottoman empire, and this repudiation has cast into obscurity the deep, almost mythical associations of the Greek and Arabic languages and scripts. Both peoples understood the power of language and writing itself, and the two cultures have lived in a long communion with one another. Even today, small communities of Greek-speakers may be found in Arab lands; a casual conversation in Athens is likely to produce memories of Alexandria or Cairo; and I have myself seen documents in Arabic script proudly mounted on the walls of Catholic monasteries in the Greek islands. In these cloistered and secluded enclaves, the sheltering word was a reality.
We are especially delighted to welcome The Sheltering Word to the Heyman Center for the Humanities. The quiet intensity of Irini Gonou’s work has been displayed recently in a series of historic sites. In the past few years alone, it has been on view in the ancient Chalki Theological Seminary in Istanbul; in the magnificent relic of Ottoman imperial charity, the Alatza Imaret in Thessaloniki; and in the noble Bazaios Tower in Naxos, which once housed a fortified monastery but today constitutes a unique art space of its own. Now we are privileged to bring it to New York and to make it available to students and friends of our university community.

Mark Mazower, Director Heyman Center for the Humanities
From the exhibition The Sheltering Word at the HCH at Columbia University, NY, USA


In her work "On Nature", Irene Gonou utilises textile, ink, cane, seeds and twine, creating objects that, although on first appearance appear worthless, but which are nevertheless invested with their own mystical, introverted calligraphic script that seeks to function as an independent art and as an amulet: "if the art of poetry was the repository of Arabic memory, the art of calligraphy, with the sounds of its colours, the rhythmic nature of its intensity, its harmony of proportion and abstract extensions, invested in writing with the talismanic nature of art; safeguarding books and architectural gems, where walls, columns, and their capitals, domes are all dressed up with wards of calligraphic texts or arabesques stripped of their initial meaning, but which continue to recall that they invoke the divine", commented noted Arabologist Eleni Kondyli-Bassoukou, on see¬ing her work. In much the same manner, Gonou's art of writing utilises the most humble of raw materials, which she selects in order subsequently to negate matter itself, transforming it into an almost intangible wall of protection, made of humble materials and crude arabesque designs, and being itself converted into condensed image / amulet of existence, clothed in precious and successive layers of fragments of memory and time.

Iris Kritikou
From the catalogue of the exhibition Material Links at he MoCA Shanghai, 2008


Mes Tanagras.
En avril 2004 au Louvre une exposition sur les Tanagras me fera découvrir le charmant univers des femmes de la Grèce ancienne. J’en avais vu quelques unes dans divers musées en Grèce, le fait de les retrouver toutes ensemble a aiguise mon attention sur des détails. J’ai donc constate avec étonnement que mon travaille de la terre correspondait tout a fait à l’ancienne technique de la coroplathie, et mon obsession au sujet de la figure féminine, et ses atouts vestimentaires ont trouvé en elles un grand archétype. Même du fait qu’elles n’appartenaient pas a la “grande sculpture” mais qu’elles accompagnaient les gens en tant qu’effigies à leur vie de tous les jours, ces déesse accessibles ont fait de l’art la vie même; un raison de plus que je me sens si proche des figurines de Tanagra en créant “mes Tanagras

Irini Gonou,2011


Gonou's art of writing utilizes the most humble of raw materials, which she selects in order subsequently to negate matter itself, transforming it into an almost intangible wall of protection, made of humble materials and crude arabesque designs, and being itself converted into condensed image / amulet of existence, clothed in precious and successive layers of fragments of memory and time..

Iris Kritikou,2010


« …L’Art en tant que vérité et protection de l’homme se révèle dans la pensée d’Irini Gonou. Les mots tracés par le scribe ou le calligraphe sont les archives de la mémoire, mais aussi peut-être quelque chose de plus : c’est la protection face aux malheurs du monde – visible et invisible. Le mot, donc, outre qu’il se souvient, protège en invoquant le divin. Or, si le scribe ou le calligraphe remplace l’invocation par la poésie, l’Art, la nouvelle définition se formule en ces termes : le mot protège en invoquant l’Art.
Je demeure aussi mémoire, talisman et réconciliation de l’homme avec l’Univers. Je fends la matière et la transperce : en guise d’armure de fer, je me vêtirai des paroles qui sauvent, de la manière dont elles sauvent. Et si l’art, par la mélodie de la poésie, garde vivante la mémoire de ceux qui sont partis, l’écriture, à même la peau, son art sur moi, sur mon cœur, préservera la vie, la protègera telle une armure. Et cette armure sera plus puissante que celle du monde matériel et corruptible….
…Les talismans, tels qu’ils ont fonctionné au fil des siècles, au sein de toute croyance et spiritualité, ont amené Irini Gonou à aimer ce qui est humble, à l’orner de poésie et à lui témoigner le respect qui lui est simultanément accordé par de nombreuses cultures ».

Eléni Kondyli-Bassoukou
Arabologue, Professeur à l’Université d’Athènes



The secret of art
On the garment of the Bamana tribe hunter there are a series of articles that hang in display: amulets, horns, hooves, bits of wood, tails of animals, feathers, and more all stemming from the wild kingdom of plants and animals. Each one of these articles engulfs some secret. The objects themselves enact the secret-knowledge that the renowned hunter accumulated during the course of his life. He is the only one who knows the precise symbolism of these articles and no one but he is entitled to wear his garment. That is how personal the secrets-amulets he carries on his person are.
In societies whose tradition has been handed down orally, works of art –be they the product of individual work or the product of collective effort- always reflect possession of a secret entrusted to collective memory. Healers and seers who belong to the same cultural background prescribe small articles which possess metaphysical properties or contain substances which either endow patients with stamina in case of sickness or ward off the evil spirits. Depending on which social group one belongs to, power is drawn from different objects which carry the accumulation of a variety of secrets. No secret is to be found in insularity without something that envelops it or contains it being present. As a result, each secret may be folded into a range of objects.
In a like manner, art has its own secrets as well, or better yet, art and secrets alike have a lot in common: both have a metonymic affinity with life. Like hiding places, works of art resemble vessels within which private or public secrets may be contained or may be displayed. Accordingly, art analysts defer to mythology, anthropology, semantics, psychoanalysis, and a wealth of other sciences in order to decipher the secrets. Yet, what they don't take into account is the unique property that secrets have to leak. After all, what constitutes a secret for one person is simply not a secret for someone else. What’s more, secrets have an expiration date: For instance, a secret of old may today be common knowledge. Ultimately, it seems to serve no purpose to hunt a secret down or, to be more precise, to seek a secret that a work of art may be concealing. The secret of a work of art is always on its surface –regardless of the work’s form, its material or code- precisely as it happens with the garment the Bamana tribe hunter wears.

Natassa Markidou
(A handful of thoughts on Art with the occasion of Irini Gonou's art exhibition "Amulets")
Athens, February 12, 2005