It is an initiative within the framework of the «University of the Mountains», a Non-Profit company formed by members of the University of Crete to bring the academia closer to society. So far, neither the «University of the Mountains» nor the «Mission Penelope Gandhi» have received any funding from the Greek state, the European Union or private corporations, and both have been supported financially solely by their volunteering members.
The «Mission Penelope Gandhi» was named after two figures whose stories have been linked with the weaving art in a decisive way. The one is Penelope, mythical queen of Ithaca and faithful wife of Ulysses according to Homer’s ancient Greek epic poems. The other is Mahatma Gandhi, inspired politician and preeminent leader of the nonviolent independence movement in British-ruled India. Penelope, in order to remain faithful to her long gone husband and avoid the suitors surrounding her, claimed she would marry one of them only after completing the cloth she was weaving at day, only to unpick it at night. Gandhi believed that weaving meant the only means for his people to be self-sufficient and independent, and was seen and photographed spinning cotton for his own clothes.
In Crete, until some decades ago, the weaving art offered indeed a kind of self-sufficiency to each household which had a loom. The Mission’s goal is to reinstate looms for new weavers on the island and reclaim all traditional practices pertaining to creating certified cloths of high artistic value, such as making threads from materials produced organically. Since the beginning, volunteers working for the Mission have videotaped more than 500 men and women revealing their weaving secrets and have documented traditional cloths kept in households around Crete.
In 2012, the Mission organised its first exhibition in Crete, at St. Mark’s Basilica in Heraklion, with weavers coming from all four regional units of the island to weave on four looms. A similar event was held the following year at the Benaki Museum in Athens, with Cretan weavers working for two months surrounded by the museum’s precious exhibits of weaving art. The Mission also organises educational programs for schools, in a constant effort to make weaving an everyday reality in a society more or less detached from tradition.
* The video was filmed at the Benaki Museum’s central building in Athens, Greece (www.benaki.gr)