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Reclaiming 'Tsolias'

Reclaiming ‘Τσολιάς’: A Vision of Greek Identity and Gender


In this series of portraits, I delve into the complex interplay of gender, tradition, and personal identity through the lens of my own experiences growing up in Greece. Each image is a narrative, a chapter in my ongoing journey of self-discovery, challenging the rigid confines of Greek hypermasculine identity.


From my earliest memories, the fabric of my identity was woven with threads of expectation and rebellion. As a child growing up in Greece, the shadow of the ‘Τσολιάς’ (tsolias) loomed large – the epitome of the hyper-masculine identity that my mother, with intentions rooted in pride and tradition, draped upon me at every national celebration. It was a costume both familiar and foreign, a rigid shell wrapping a spirit that yearned to breath the air of childish playfulness. Yet, in the skirt of the 'Τσολιάς' I found that unexpected playfulness, dancing in the liberating embrace of a skirt, dreaming of balletic freedom. Whirling, a contradiction to the masculinity the skirt sought to proclaim. This duality became a playground for my curiosity, a space where my discomfort and affinity amalgamated into a complex relationship with the costume.

This work is my response, a performance of self-defying the confines of a prescribed masculinity.

In the final instalment of my exploration into the performative dimensions of Greek masculinity, this project employs the iconic 'tsolias' costume as a canvas to interrogate, deconstruct, and redefine the traditional conceptions of gender within Greek culture. Through a series of three studio portraits, each featuring different individuals donned in the regalia of the 'tsolias,' this collection captures a deliberate, and bold juxtaposition of masculinity against undertones of femininity and vulnerability, challenging the viewer to reconsider intrenched frameworks of gender identity.By integrating elements traditionally viewed as feminine, such as high heels with pompoms and red nail polish, into the masculine iconography of the ‘Tsolias’, the project invites viewers to question and potentially redefine what these symbols can represent. This fusion of the conventional with the unconventional not only challenges viewers’ perceptions but also celebrates the potential for a more inclusive understanding of gender identity within cultural heritage.


Collectively, these images serve not just as portraits but as visual essays that question and expand the narrative of what it means to embody the 'tsolias.' They argue that even traditional symbols of masculinity can also express freedom, openness, and a divergence from normative gender performances. This project, therefore, not only reclaims the 'tsolias' as a multifaceted symbol of Greek culture but also repositions it within a contemporary discourse on gender fluidity and identity. Through these visual dialogues, I aim to dismantle the binary views of gender, advocating for a more inclusive understanding that embraces individuality and complexity over conformity.

This work was developed while at the Royal College of Art pursuing my Masters in Photography. Proud!

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All images copyright Alex Charovas

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