Warning: this piece contains descriptions of sexual assault.
Can we as a society continue to venerate artistic brilliance if its creator turns out to be a “serial killer of souls?” The issue of whether or not art can be separated from the artist has once again emerged as a result of the current MeToo movement in Greece. The former artistic director of the National Theatre of Greece, Dimitris Lignadis, was arrested on February 12, 2021, following multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including sexual abuse of minors. Lignadis is a renowned actor and theatrical director and is nationally admired for his gift in directing Ancient Greek plays. His most recent production, The Persians by Aeschylus, was shown this past July at the ancient theater of Epidaurus and is, arguably, his greatest work. “Lignadis promised his audience that they could find the theatre’s beating heart in Epidaurus tonight. He was absolutely right,” wrote The Guardian after the performance was streamed live from the famous ancient stage.
In just a few months, Lignadis fell from artistic apotheosis to utter disgrace as several accusations arose against him, all following the same pattern: willful and calculated abuse of power to serve criminal ends. According to the accusations, Lignadis sought out young teens passionate about theater and gave false promises to nurture their careers, such as fake assurances of admission into prestigious acting schools and programs and the use of his abundant connections to procure important theatrical roles for them. His targets, pursuant to their accounts, often felt weak due to their age and insecurities about their sexuality or social standing; Lignadis took advantage of those vulnerabilities and made them believe they were the center of his world.
One of these allegations was made by a 23-year-old man who spoke out about being raped by Lignadis when he was just fifteen. He described being lured backstage by Lignadis after watching a show and how he opened up to Lignadis about how he found solace in the theatre after suffering from abuse. He described Lignadis as “stabbing [him] with his eyes” as Lignadis is accused of coercing the young teen into sexual behaviors through false promises.
“That man had entangled me in a fake net of protection and held me hostage for years until recently,” says Greek born non-binary supermodel, Tzef Montana, in a recent interview about Lignadis. “I feel that he took advantage of the difficult puberty I went through by using the fear and insecurity I had … about my sexuality.” Like Montana, the alleged young victims would fall under Lignadis’ spell and were thus unable to resist him physically or psychologically. Following his predatory sexual advances, they claimed that Lignadis would discard them, leaving their souls and bodies shattered. Tzef Montana, described Lignadis as “a collector of souls,” maintaining that Lignadis “ kidnapped [their] soul.”
If Lignadis is found guilty, the National Theatre of Greece faces an important question: Should the Theatre continue to show performances Lignadis has directed? Undoubtedly, directing Ancient Greek work is a delicate process that takes very precise movements and therefore necessitates experienced professionals to produce. In addition to artistic talent, deep knowledge of Ancient Greek language, philosophy, theology and history is required to translate properly and present the plays within a modern lens so that they can remain timeless. As Lignadis is critically acclaimed for his ability to direct Ancient Greek works, some therefore argue that his work may continue to be presented, while society can still hold him accountable for his actions if convicted. While there may be instances in which art and the artist can be separated without indirectly endorsing the creator, this case would not be one of them.
There is an essential difference when art is displayed publicly rather than privately. If the question were, would any of you hang a Caravaggio in your living room, the answer for some of you might be yes. You may decide you want a painting of Caravaggio in your own house because you like his work, even though the man was a murderer. However, this painting would remain in a private place and would be viewed only by yourself and your guests. In the case of Lignadis, if proven guilty, it would not be a question of whether we could casually appreciate his art; rather it would be an issue about public ethics and morality. If Lignadis’ work were shown by the National Theatre of Greece, it would ultimately be presented on a national scale and would be accessible to the public, including his alleged victims, who would be effectively given the message that the country is willing to second their suffering to celebrate their accused rapist’s artistic merit.
As for the Ancient Greek works in question, their core purpose would be defeated. Ancient Greek plays were meant to teach lessons about morality. How can those lessons have substance if they are presented as celebrated works of a criminal? There have been and will be other talented directors. If the accusations are true, putting on Lignadis’ productions would be the ultimate irony and hypocrisy. Those who chose to celebrate his work would validate a serial rapist of bodies and souls. They would be acting directly against the ultimate takeaway and very root of the MeToo movement. The victims’ bravery to come forward and their stories are and will always be more important than the protection of their attacker, no matter his or her wealth, status, or accomplishments. To quote Greek actor, Leonidas Kalfogiannis, in a recent interview about the MeToo movement: “The time has come for [the perpetrators] to feel some of the fear which they tried to instill in all of us who happened to be in their path. The time has come for them, who every day wake up and go to sleep (if they sleep) with the fear in case their names are heard, to isolate themselves in their homes, and to feel ashamed to look at anybody in the eyes. It is a great victory.”