Introduction to 'Discovering The Beauty Of The Cyclades'
by Mark Wilman

I love the freedom I find in nature's beauty. I've lived so many experiences climbing Aegean mountains and rugged hills, as well as freediving into the depths on a single breath all for the joy of feeling one with nature's gifts; over time finding reason to express myself through images hoping others might enjoy them too, and be encouraged to explore.

'Discovering The Beauty Of The Cyclades' is now in its sixth year. Certainly there are discoveries still to be made, though with so much beauty in remote areas, any research of the islands' terrains requires attentive planning and a high level of fitness.

Particularly enjoyable when exploring has been the constant reminder of ancient history through findings and markings together with dreamy views of distant islands with their mesmerizing sea and sky horizons.

Those included in the project so far in geographical order heading north are: Anafi, Santorini - volcano and caldera, Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Poliegos, Kimolos, Milos, Sifnos, Serifos and Kythnos.

An exhibition of the work at the Aquarium of Milan from 10th May to 5th June 2019 was officially approved and promoted by the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Milan. The centrepiece was a photo entitled Lost Lady of Sikinos, Neiko because of its direct connection to a highly significant archeological find: the tomb of a noble woman called Νεικω buried 1.800 years ago under the church of Episkopi on Sikinos. The photo is one of a set taken at the exact location which followed the theme precisely, anticipating by two years the discovery.

The director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades found the photos of the 'Lost Lady of Sikinos, Neiko' ''very interesting'', permitting me to quote him publicly.

The exhibition, presented by the Greek Embassy Rome and British Embassy Athens on their social media platforms, as well as leading journals in both Italy and Greece (see the Media page which includes a presentation of the project by the Greek Embassy in Tel Aviv on their Facebook page), was dedicated to the late Professor Angelos Delivorias, a top archeologist in Greece and director of the preeminent Benaki Museum in Athens for more than 40 years.

Over the two decades the Professor and I knew each other, his explanations about antiquity were of great use to me, particularly during the making of the project. This I talked about in an interview with the Greek News Agenda, which represents the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secretariat General for Public Diplomacy, Hellenic Republic - the interview was presented by Embassies of Greece in Beijing, London, Washington D.C., Greece in Germany and Serbia, and Consulate General of Greece in Los Angeles on their social media platforms.

It has been proposed to UNESCO to encourage conservation of the archipelago for future generations, while
ANEK LINES, a leading shipping company in the Mediterranean, as well as FERRYHOPPER, part of the EasyFamily Group, i.e. EasyJet, etc., have sponsored further research of the project, as is noted on the the Project & Sponsors' page.

The Cyclades take their name from Kyklos, or circle, from the ancients and are located between Europe, Asia Minor and Africa. Because of their resources and usefulness as trade-route stopovers, they've been inhabited since Neolithic times, i.e. 12,000 years. The Minoans and Mycenaeans were influential, as were the Roman and Byzantine Empires and also pirates. The Fourth Crusade brought the archipelago under the Venetians who lost them to the Ottomans, when Barbarossa took them. They became a feuding ground for Orthodox and Catholics in the 17th century. And During World War II were occupied by Italians and Germans. So they've been busy throughout history, fortunately, nature remains the dominant force keeping their beauty intact, mostly.

My first encounter with the Cyclades was in 1974 aged 10. Arriving from much fresher London, the inviting Mediterranean climate was decidedly alien to my English sense of weather. I remember looking up at the infinite blue sky in disbelief wondering when the clouds would arrive. The taste of a pizza in a small alleyway behind Ios port one night that first year is still memorable today, so powerful was the flavour of freshly picked, wild oregano.

Sensations from encounters with nature's ways are a dominant part of my life on the islands: the sounds, scents, colours and brightness, the waves at times made ferocious by the maddening force of Meltemi winds beyond belief in rage, like an ancient god inflicting revenge, and later, when the sinking sun has softly faded below the darkening horizon, Aegean night takes hold with its calming infinity of intriguing silver dot designs perched high above staring down.

The female kind. Many years after I began visiting, she appeared. A psychologist who'd grown up behind the Iron Curtain. I found her fascinating. Other than her particularly feminine ways and attitudes, she represented a geographical area I'd never had contact with and life experience I hadn't encountered.

The stories of her childhood were ones of a society heavily compromised, her buoyant approach to life because of this was an earned value. She was younger, very attractive to my eye and energetic, which caused an incredible energy to develop inside me.

Introducing the Cyclades to her came naturally. She adapted well to the physical demands of my explorative approach, learning to freedive, rock climb and trek long distances. The islands became an important reference for both and we began experimenting photographically with her acting as model inside the natural surroundings. The results were interesting and the concept was born:

'Discovering the Beauty of the Cyclades
Wild, Natural Beauty Blended with Beauty of the Female Kind'

The description: Wild, Mediterranean nature and its encounter with the female form creating a bond they naturally express: woman blending harmoniously with mother nature inside the untamed, scenic landscapes of spectacular Cycladic islands.

The female form inside the project:

In Cycladic history, the late Neolithic and early Bronze age periods, 2.800 - 2.300 B.C., are well recognised for their female idols, flat in form and carved from local pure white marble.

I have insisted on following the theme '... Blended with Beauty of the Female Kind ', believing it essential to identify woman's significance dating back to the archipelago's ancient culture.

That I grew up with a mother from the Caribbean and have three younger sisters has surely been influential in why I'm attracted to islands and why the female is a strong point of reference to me.

2016 saw us in Sikinos in search of something we couldn't quite express. Ios and Folegandros' closest neighbour has a complex physical character with a history of wine production dating back over 2,500 years, noticeable from terracing over much of the hilly and mountainous landscapes.

Galleries were created: 'Episkopi of Sikinos' and 'Circle of Stones' and 'Lost Lady of Sikinos, Neiko'. The year after we returned and did others; these can be found in the introduction to Beauty of the Female Kind galleries.

More recently, exploration of the islands has been dedicated to on foot research frequently covering distances of up to 25km per day for several weeks often on difficult rocky terrains, decidedly rewarding especially when coming into contact with areas busy once with animal and human activity. Marble columns abandoned inside the skeletons of ancient churches hidden by trees and sprawling vegetation on the bumpy slopes of distant hillsides come to mind, as do remnants of lives lived inside stone structures located in places so remote they're often only stumbled upon, with ageing, fragmented mirrors fading slowly inside frames of dry, bare wood perched on large, rusting nails inserted determinedly into walls of such irregular shape it's amazing they still stand. Small, at times intricately designed, bottles containing oils and ointments from decades ago remain placed on shelves of flat rock built, as was custom, into the original design. Old photographs occasionally found, by now tainted sepia, show local women with men, their expressions proud and determined, posing on chairs or standing, their costumes and carefully groomed dark hair expressing traditional values of once upon a time. Decaying woollen mattresses lie alone on planks of stone closely placed above rough floors covered with a natural blanket of dried twigs and foliage visible to the sky from partially caved in roofing made of olive branches, bamboo and large flat stones. Rotting garments hang undisturbed in wait, with never ending patience, for the day they'll become nothing, perhaps still many years away. I'm always mindful of snakes inside these long ago homes, which is why the details speak so clearly.

And to conclude: the opportunity to exhibit the work is surely exciting, a chance to help conserve the value of the archipelago's natural beauty for future generations would be truly meaningful to me.

Thank you for your interest!