Sofia Amberidou is a painter-agiographer and radio producer. She has a diploma in the department of Greek Culture, in Hellenic Open University. As a painter she has done 15 individual exhibitions and 55 group exhibitions (Katerini, Thessaloniki, Serres, Veria, Florina, Athens and abroad: India, Canada, Turkey). She participated two times in the International Festival in Trabzon and in two in Ierissos, Chalkidiki and Dion, Pieria. She presented her work “The gaze of immigration” in many different schools in Greece and Cyprus. She also participated in many happenings in Greek Pontiak clubs. She is a member of the Chambers of Fine Arts of Greece, Artists’ Society of Nuclear Arts of Northern Greece (in which she was a paymaster for six years and vice president for two) and Artists’ Society of Nuclear Arts of Southern Greece. She is producing radio shows since 2002 in many radio stations. She is producing “Pontiak Muse” on 100,6 fm Radio of Thessaloniki.We (Mavri Thalassa) interviewed Sofia about her art and Pontos.
1.From which region of Pontos did the family move to Greece when?
My father’s parents were born and raised in Kaya Alan, Giresun. My grandfather, Athanasios Amberidis, was born in 1890 and my grandmother, Maria Fotiadis, in 1900. They loved each other since their young age and they were married for 4 years. When they left Pontos they had the 2-year-old daughter with them. It was the beginning of 1922 when they left their home, due to the tragic circumstances in the region, caused by Topal Osman. My grandfather’s father was a priest and he was tortured and killed, because he didn’t want to betray his people. My grandmother also was at the endless routes of exile and saw her 17-year-old sister die from hunger and hardships. When I was born, they gave me this girl’s name. Also in Pontos, two brothers of my grandfather stayed ignorant. When they left, they arrived in Piraeus and then stayed in Koukos, Katerini. They got 5 sons. My father George is the youngest of the family.
2.Are there Pontos influences in your art life? Did your family tell you that it affected you?
Undoubtedly! I grew up in a family with intense religious emotion and kept the Pontiac customs. I grew up in a farmhouse, built by my grandfather in 1950, who was carrying stones from the forest. At first, I couldn’t understand all the stories I used to listen. After 20 years, I finally understood what they were all talking about. I had a special bound with my grandmother, who loved me very much, especially because I had her sister’s name. She often used to tell me about all the difficult things they had passed and she cried in the end.
3.How did your longing for Pontos reflect your art?
My painting is divided into two major themes, hagiography and folk-naive painting. Hagiography includes illustrations of churches and icons with themes and persons concerning the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the holy persons of orthodoxy. In painting I deal with issues related to the plotting of ideas and emotions. I like to paint subjects from nature and I have a weakness in birds and trees. Everything in my painting is symbolic and of course a great part of my painting concerns the Pontus theme. As an artist, I can not explain exactly how I paint and paint themes for the Pontus. I do not have to try very hard. A thought, a memory, or something to read, is the reason for creation. Most of the time the subject comes out spontaneously from my heart.
4.How many times have you been to Pontos?
I visited Pontos 3 times. Firstly in August 2012 to watch the Divine Service in Panagia Soumela and then in September 2014 and July 2018 to participate in Femin an Art Festival in Trabzon.
5.How are two important elements of your life combined with Pontos / Trabzon and art?
For more than 30 years, art is a way of life for me. I paint since my 10-year-old age in school and after my 18th year I started studying art. Pontos is experience. It’s the air and blood that goes through my veins. As the years went by I started wanting to express this feeling through paintings and so in 1991 I started painting about Pontos. In 2005 I set up an exhibition in Thessaloniki with the title “The look of Immigration”. Since then, I continue painting about Pontos, with themes both real and imaginary.
6.What feelings have you experienced?
Now that I’m going through my 50’s, I think I’m well-balanced as a human and an artist. All these years I went through many things and situations. I grew up in a refugee village and my grandfather and grandmother used to live with us. My parents left to Germany for some years to get a better job. I was also affected by the inequalities at school and the Greek society. Love is also a very important part of my life and now that I have two daughters, I feel complete as a woman. Life doesn’t stop surprising you and I always follow the phrase “Move your hand along with Athena (Heaven helps those who help themselves)”, because I believe that people have to do something from their life, to fight with happiness and hope for a better future.
7.What have you experienced in Trabzon? How did people approach you?
Trabzon is a very special city. It has physical beauty and brilliant historical monuments. The history we Greeks from Pontos know is different from the history people in Turkey know. For me the name “1461” in a cafeteria is ironic. I’m sad to see that in the last years are being built may modern block of flats. It is also sad, except in a few cases, what is done with Orthodox churches. There are many churches in the province in need of restoration, and they have obvious signs of being desecrated by humans and animals. In the best of cases many orthodox temples are preserved as mosques and the most correct ones are museums. The case of, for example, Hagia Sophia, where the emblem of the Komneno era is halfway as a museum and half as a mosque is shame and shame! Also in the courtyard of Agia Sophia there are marble carved slabs and columns with Greek inscriptions that stand unprotected in the weather. These things are part of the world’s cultural heritage and Turkey has no right to treat them in this way. All this causes regret and anxiety for their protection and future. I could say a lot about the subject, but it will probably take a lot of pages. The people of Trabzon, however, the simple people are very hospitable and they love the Greeks. I felt comfortable with them as if I were with my own people who know them for years. I met several people who brought me very nice. With some female painters a special friendship has developed, and as time passes, we become more and more. I also met people in the Greek-Pontian villages, just as my ancestors spoke. I enjoyed greatly about this experience. I remembered what my grandmother was often telling her, that they loved Greeks and Turks in the same neighborhood, and that the difficult moment when her Turkish neighbor would leave, embraced her very tightly and said to her: do not leave, do not let us, we will to live without you?
8.What did you feel when you went to the villages of your family?
I wanted very much to see some things that my grandmother used to tell me about. In the end I was disappointed. It was on the 14th September 2014, a rainy day and I will remember that although my disappointment, I ate the most tasty blackberries of my life. My feelings were mixed. Both happiness and sadness, both anger and fear. There were mountains and grass lands and cows. But everything else was missing. The village was completely destroyed and now there is a new village built nearby with another name. There are debris of a church and now it’s stables. I wish that sometime the real history will come out and the lives that were lost will find peace. Saying “sorry” is a brave action and builds bridges for a better future.