25 years old
In Bia Davou’s work1 I could see that each of the sails is a different colour and faces a different direction. It made me feel tense and confused, because it brought to mind what’s going on in my country, with the various factions and their differences, who are in conflict and fighting amongst themselves. Just the opposite happens when we meet in the hall at the Museum2; we’re all different and think differently, but we realize we respect each other’s opinion and, what’s more, we share the same feelings. So, while the work expresses conflict—brought on by ethnic, racial, economic or other causes—we’re sending out here a different kind of message for the present and the future: even though we’re different, we have things in common that unite us and we respect one another. That’s why I’m really happy to be part of this group3.
An artist is able to “meet” other people, metaphorically speaking, through the ideas his or her work conveys. I studied acting for a year in Syria and then philosophy for another. I prefer acting because it’s a form of art. With art, your voice can reach a lot of people in many different countries. You can critically analyse social issues and make a positive contribution to solving problems in society.
When there’s mutual respect, understanding and real communication among the members of a society, then that society can make progress. Each person fulfils their obligations and can exercise their rights. That’s equality. Unfortunately, in my country, as in many other countries, that’s not the case. Because of a lack of education—that’s how I see it—[Syrian] society is moving backwards, and we’re suffering a great deal because of this. A lot of restrictions have been introduced, and as a result, people have become stuck in the way they think. Take, for example, the position of women. When the crisis broke out in Syria, I was still a teenager. Until then, I’d had the idea that a woman could be a doctor, a teacher, a wife, a musician, a gymnast—whatever she chose to be—just as a man could. Actually, if you look back in time, you’ll see that throughout the centuries there have been very important women in the country’s history. Unfortunately, restrictions have been placed on what a woman can do with her life, the skills and talents she might have in a particular area aren’t recognized, and in general she’s not considered equal to a man.
A lot of times I can’t find a logical explanation for things. For example, when I got to Athens I didn’t expect to find this situation with drugs and garbage on so many of the city streets. It indicates how values have eroded. I don’t understand how this could happen in a country like Greece, with its history and with a culture that goes back to Antiquity. I think that’s what Alexandros Georgiou is exploring in his work4. He colours the temple of the Parthenon in yellow and places it at the centre to show that culture and history are very important and can’t be erased, however much society has changed in the meantime, that they’ll always be there to bring people together.
Kostis Velonis’ Swedish Flying Carpet talks about the encounter between different cultures. My own sense is that communication and the exchange of ideas and elements of culture can foster progress and cultural development. We just need to appreciate and not dismiss the culture and history that each nation has contributed. What surely destroys a culture is war. As a young person, I want the situation in my country to improve so that I can have hope for my future there. However, the absence of freedom in Syria has led thousands of young persons like me to seek their fortune elsewhere in another country, where they face an uncertain future.
All this is happening in a country with two of the most ancient cities in the world, Aleppo and Damascus. And yet, one dark moment in its modern history was enough to destroy a centuries-old culture and the lives of thousands of people. It’s not only that I can’t study in my country, or that I’d be poor and hungry. The war has destroyed everything. It’s why I left and I am here today, trying to make a new start in my life. I want to study and work in a country in the EU and get exposed to elements of European culture, but I also want to contribute in turn with elements of my own culture. I hope I’ll be given the chance to show who I really am and what I can do, and what I can contribute.
As refugees we have all endured a great deal of hardship. We need a short break from the troubles weighing on our mind. We need to be among people who are willing to listen to us and who can understand us, so that we can share our thoughts with them. Because a person’s mind and way of thinking is their greatest treasure.
In the end, as Bill Viola’s work5 shows, nothing can stop us from dreaming and making plans for our future, and we need to be determined that even if we fall, we will get back up and carry on.
1 Refers to Sails, 1981-1982.
2 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
3 Refers to the group during whose meetings at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, this narrative was recorded.
4 Refers to the work Athens, Parthenon, 2007-2008.
5 Refers to The Raft, 2004.