At first sight, the wide-eyed protagonists and frisky animals that appear across Lydia Venieri’s artworks evoke scenes from childhood, youthful and innocent in spirit. The figures featured in her prints are reminiscent of both classic babydolls and characters from Japanese anime, marked by large, piercing eyes. They interact with one another casually, sharing secrets and intimate moments as friends often do; upon closer examination, however, it becomes evident that Venieri ascribes to the adage “the eyes are the window to the soul.” Scenes of war-torn communities, such as those in Gaza and Armenia, are reflected in their eyes, resulting in an unexpected and thought-provoking dialogue between playful imagery and global catastrophe.
Similarly veiled was the sober narrative of Venieri’s solo exhibition at Vanessa Quang Gallery in Paris, “Mykonos Biennale - Crisis & Paganism,” inspired by the original Mykonos Biennale, which took place on the Greek island of Mykonos during the summer of 2013. Venieri replaces Christ and the Apostles with woodland creatures in her rendition of The Last Supper. While the animals seem to be jovial, their counterparts in photographic documentation of the same scene—acted out by masked performance artists—confront each other aggressively, alluding to the animalistic tendencies of humans during times of conflict. As was the intention with the original Mykonos Biennale in Greece, Venieri—who was born in Athens—designed her exhibition to wittily critique the way in which Greece was placed in what the artist believed to be an unwarranted spotlight during a global economic crisis.
Venieri’s artistic tactics of combining light and exuberant imagery with strong political undertones engage the viewer in complex contemporary issues. While appealing to a wide audience through accessible, playful subject matter, she also points toward much graver issues, in effect creating artworks that manifest rich layers of meaning.