Documenta show sheds light on family business
The story of Hellenic Textile Mill starts in the 19th century, in the cosmopolitan Ottoman Empire, and ends at a building complex on Pireos Street that has been home for the last few decades to the Athens School of Fine Arts, where the Sikiaridis and the Ambazoglou families, bonded by marriage, founded one of the country’s most important textile mills.
“Documenta asked us to make a short film about the premises that once belonged to our family,” says architect Elizabeth Sikiaridi, who is one of the narrators of the 18-minute documentary “Fabric,” along with her brother Simos Sikiaridis.
The film is being screened at the art school’s old library at 256 Pireos Street as part of the documenta 14 international art show. While detailing the history of the textile mill, the documentary also casts light on the lives of the middle and upper classes in the Ottoman Empire. In addition it offers insight into industrialization in Athens after 1922 and the influx of refugee workers from Asia Minor.
“The documentary presents the history of Hellenic Textile Mill but also the story of our family, which, starting from Cappadocia and stopping in Constantinople and Beirut, settled in Athens in the mid-1920s and founded the business,” says Sikiaridi.
The factory was founded by Simos Sikiaridis, the narrators’ grandfather. Before 1924, his business had extended beyond the Ottoman Empire to the West, the main market for his fabrics. When the Sikiaridis and Ambazoglou families moved to Athens, they decided to open a mill for processing wool. Both families were wealthy – the former thanks to textiles and the latter to grain – and bought land on Pireos Street, building their homes and the factory, and later selling other plots at a profit. They founded the Sikiarideio Foundation to treat children with trachoma but World War II scuppered the original plan, though after the war and up until 1971 it did help children at risk of tuberculosis.
The family also invested in the Greek capital’s boom and built the avant-garde Rex Theater on Panepistimiou Street, as well as founding a Greek community school in Beirut in 1951. Despite being rebranded as the Anglo-Hellenic Textile Mill, the factory gradually lost its edge and eventually went bankrupt in 1981. The space was saved thanks to Nikos Kessanlis, who was looking for a new home for the Athens School of Fine Arts, and in 1992, the entire complex was bought by the state.
“There is virtually nothing left of the family’s history,” says Sikiaridi. “But the purpose for which the space is being used is perfect.