ANTONIS THEODORIDIS is an image-based artist, based in Athens, Greece.
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MYSTERY 8: Eyes on Japan
Antonis Theodoridis: The Return of Spring and Other Rites of Transition
14 December 2023 - 21 January 2024
Cultural Center Leonidas Kanellopoulos, Eleusina.

Letter to a yet unborn son
Exhibition text by Christian Oxenius

I accepted this task coming as a genuine proposal from a friend, Antonis Theodoridis in a period of turmoil for the both of us. It was a good occasion to reflect and dialogue over a subject that, too often, we leave tucked away, something we only face when encountering its toxic side – masculinity and what it means to grow up to be a man – and for good reasons. Especially in the current climate, we are flooded with the glorification of aggressive, dominant, and abusive figures (regardless of their actual gender) who reiterate the most vile traits of heroes past and present. Ever so seldom, unfortunately, do we have the chance to reflect instead on all the complexities of this set of attributes we call masculinity, not in opposition to - but as an integral constructive counterpart to those we identify as feminine.

I have always felt, in Antonis’ photographs the presence of a dual lens: one directed outwards towards the world, joyful or harsh but always capable of creating in me, as a viewer, a feeling of curiosity and growth. The second turned towards himself – intimate, allowing me a glimpse into his thoughts, his emotions. The combination of these two gestures I felt early on was a wonderful representation of what “nurturing masculinity” can be.

I don’t even know you yet, and the thought itself of writing to you has caused me to spend a few days crying, thinking of how to give you a sense of what it is like to grow up in this world as a son, a boy and eventually a man.

I tore with joy to think of you as a curious human being encountering the world for the first time every day of your life; thinking of the colors you will see, the ones that bring warmth and light as well as those harsh and cold ones; imagining you discovering the softness of petals and the roughness of an old carpet; seeing you experiencing the beauty of a crisp sunny winter day for the first time, feeling the cold air brushing your skin while almost blinded by the sharp sun rays and then the joy of returning to a warm home to cuddle in your bed.

I also cried as a reaction to all the times I had been told not to. I was crying for all the times you will be told not to, that you shouldn’t; that crying because you’re happy, because you’re sad, because you are hopeless, or just frightened is not something you should do, it is not something boys do.

It might not even start there. It might start with a toy car, and you’ll be over the moon, happy at how shiny it looks, or how fast its wheels spin. You will travel through the whole world in the living room, maybe even through space, or to the depths of the earth while holding your hand on it, imagining worlds only you can see. But in some ways, that car will give you a sense of control, since you will be the one “driving”.

I hope one day you will understand how, in other situations, that same feeling can hurt you and others. I hope you will understand, how that sense of control is a privilege we all need to be aware of. I hope you will understand that as much as it is a privilege, it is a burden that you will need to share with others, brothers and sisters in this world. I hope you will feel led by others similarly, with care and respect, and know that people who love you can tolerate your faults but not your control, because they need to feel free to love.

I would love to be with you the first time someone tells you not to cry, that you should feel strong even when you don’t want to. I would love to be there and remind you to listen to these words carefully, feel what you are feeling – anger, sadness, or fear – and never forget that feeling. To listen to words but do as you feel: to stand up for others even when it gets tough. It is scary sometimes because you’ll want to fit in with that friend who looks “stronger”, but yet I hope you’ll find the strength to talk to someone who cares about you, even when I am not around.

Because you are a boy, or maybe you’ll be a man already by the time you read this, you will be spared countless moments of humiliation, threat, and prejudice in comparison to your sisters. You will, for your very being a man, be part of the machine of oppression that was created long before you. You might not notice at first, we are partially spared this thought while still boys if lucky, but certainly by the time you are a man all this will be evident and a burden to carry every day. It is transmitted by the many stories which reach us from the past, from the verses of ancient heroes glorifying rape, abduction, and murder, to fables reiterating which roles we all have in society.

The same story, which you will hear and love growing up, will sound much bleaker and filled with dark omens once you listen to it again, after the right of passage to manhood.

It will be hard to judge all the time, but this is what is asked of you. You will have to choose when to be delicate and caring with those in need and when fierce and unforgiving towards others. It will be hard to keep faith in men sometimes when reading or worse meeting those of us who abuse their power to harm others – whether in fields of war or within the safety of our homes. Other times you might be attacked while trying to remind others that at the root, the oppressive system we live in, causes harm to all of us. So please don’t bow your head to oppressors who see the world as a simple battle between black and white. Keep seeing things in all the shades of those colors you discovered as a boy, keep seeking the beauty in the thousand shades of red of a dying day, and embrace at once the fierce cold of the night wind and the first warmth of dawn.

For all these reasons I was and I am crying: a sign of hope and despair, a reminder of the pain we can cause and the hope we can bring for change.