Once-leper colony islet converts into a work of art.


Spinalonga is an islet located in east Crete, a territory of Greece. This tiny island is known as a popular tourist attraction today, but has a tremendous history expanded from Ancient Greek, Venentian, Ottoman, and finally in 20th century, it was used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957.


That the island was once a leper colony was learned to a lot of people by a novel The Island in 2005, the story of a family’s ties to the leper colony. And this time, the islet has turned into a work of art by a renowned Greek artist, Costas Tsoklis.


Tsoklis titled the exhibition “You, the last leper,” which runs from June 2nd to October 31st.  In the exhibition’s official website, Tsoklis worte:

“In the ancient Greek tragedies, where the fate of the heroes is always gloomy, the beauty of speech arrives followed by the unexpected solutions to the complicated relationships and situations, to redeem the heroes, as well as the viewer. In the same manner, I aspire to identify the visitor with all those isolated from society, who saw their bodies and souls slowly melting away, and then redeem him through the charm of nature and art, leading him eventually to the realisation of his own luck, and thus enabling him to enjoy the gifts of life, of freedom and of art.”


A tourist who visited Splinalonga blogged about the exhibition and she said Mirrors played a big part in the exhibition,which the patients of that time didn’t have any. Also there was “a sculpture which was set out on a long bar above a large drop, depicting an inmate about to jump.” Then she added it struck her as odd as a tour guide said the island was actually a happy place where the patients were given medical treatment, food, water, and social security payments with no suicides.


However, I doubt whether the island was full of happiness. The patients were isolated from the outside world in a tiny island, and I think it is human’s instinct to want to know a different world and expand their horizons, which they were not allowed to.


Another blogger mentioned about the exhibition that “Sources of inspiration for the artist is the island itself and the ruins of the buildings, the hopeless desire to escape (“Incoming drop there any hope,” was written on the entrance), the desperate need to communicate with the outside world, many suicides, wear, lack of mirrors, the intense eroticism, death and births, the dirt and the tidiness and petty trade exercised over the island.”


Hansen’s disease used to be regarded as infectious disease, which is not true. This was widely thought not only in Greece but other countries, such as South Korea which has an islet called So-Rok-Do that used for leper colony. Some people call these islands as “islands of tears”. It is amazing how art can demonstrate things like Tsoklis does. It shed a light on our sad history and raises people’s  awareness to sympathy their pains.