26 years old
People who have fled their country and now live in a completely different environment need to express themselves, to share their experiences with others. Whether they have fled as refugees or because they want to study or for any other reason, they always have a feeling of nostalgia and fondness for those they have left behind.
These were my thoughts when we discussed the work of Do Ho Suh1, who left his country because he wanted to pursue his studies in New York. We, on the other hand, were forced to abandon our land and didn’t even have the time to think about it or make plans for it. Although we cannot change what has happened in the past, we can learn from our experiences and try to build our future the way we want it to be. What I dream of now is to have stability and security in my life and to be able to make plans for the future of my children.
The work Sails by Bia Davou touched me a lot. Although it is hard to understand in which direction the ships are going, we can tell that they are moving. It reminded me of our own journey at sea, in which we didn’t know where we would end up. It was night, dark, and there we were in a crowded plastic boat, like a drop in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t know if the boat would sink, if there was something wrong with it or if we would manage to get to the shore. It is a recollection of a good and a bad experience at the same time: there are families next to you with young children whose lives are in danger, and at some point you see a beach ahead and rejoice that you have finally reached firm ground.
After this trip I only want to think about the land. And if I have to make a second trip, I hope it will be my return trip to Syria, but only when things will have calmed down and the country will start growing again.
Metaphorically speaking, our entire life is a journey with many stops along the way. This is the meaning of travelling as portrayed by the bundles in the work of Kimsooja2, which remind me of when we decided to abandon our country and had to pack our things: our clothes, some personal items and some mementos, while so much more was left behind. Among the things I managed to salvage until now is a beautiful memento: five years ago I exchanged a piece of paper with a friend on which we had written our names and the date of our separation. Just like in the installation, where bundles are far from each other, we each went our own way once we parted. But we keep the memory of our friendship alive.
For me, the one work that stood out was Fix it by Mona Hatoum. It reminded me of what happened in Syria, with the war leaving behind rubble everywhere. As the artist gave new life to old neglected objects, I wish for the same to happen to the Syrian cities that have been destroyed, so that life returns to the country. For this to happen, words do not suffice, actions are needed too. We need the people who govern us to put an end to the war, so we can leave what happened behind and move forward in the direction of hard work and righteousness. And I hope what happened in Syria will not happen again in any other country.
The story of the former factory, which now hosts the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, reminded me of the story of Aleppo. Aleppo is considered to be one of the first cities to have been inhabited, and has one of the oldest and largest castles. But in the last seven years it has become one of the most dangerous places. The city is unrecognisable because of the massive destruction it has undergone. You see pictures from today’s Aleppo and you cannot believe that there can be such a place on earth: a destroyed window here, a pot thrown there… However, some people have remained there in the hope that the city will be rebuilt, convinced that all problems are challenges which drive people to work hard and succeed.
The work Athens, Parthenon by Alexandros Georgiou which talks about the consequences of the economic crisis in Greece, again made me think of the devastating consequences of the war in my country. The war, of course, is tougher than an economic crisis. This is why we are thankful to the Greek State and the Greek people who, despite all the problems they are faced with, they are for the most part hospitable and welcoming, without caring about our religion or our nationality. There are many rich countries that spend billions on wars, yet did not take in a single refugee. Not even some Arab countries who speak the same language as us and should have treated us like brothers. In contrast, in Greece we can enjoy some of the rights of Greek citizens, such as education and health care, and we are very grateful for that. And this is what our children will remember in the future.
The Raft by Bill Viola shows that when people find themselves in a critical situation, because of the shock they experience, forget whether they are from Europe, Asia or Africa, if they are rich or poor, and try to face the horror that has been inflicted on them by helping each other out. This is more or less what we felt inside the boat that brought us here. These were the most difficult hours of my life. When you’ve been through what we have, you see this work and it’s upsetting, it hurts a lot.
I know that life is not always easy, nor always difficult, as shown by the wavy carpet made by Kostis Velonis3. In Syria I was studying Law, but in the third year I was forced to interrupt my studies because of the war. And yet I have not given up on trying to rebuild my life. As shown by the inventive work of Costas Tsoclis4, we should not regard any achievement as a full stop at the end of a sentence, but constantly strive for the best. Also, our dreams and actions must have a deeper purpose and we should not start from emptiness. This is what I thought when I saw the work Heart in Heart by Yael Kanarek with the ribbons hanging from a hook that secures and binds them together. As if to say that, in life, toughness coexists with tenderness, logic with emotion, and one complements the other.
During the few days that we met up, I felt like we were family. Although I’m not the type to open up easily, these works of contemporary art that I was seeing for the first time gave me the opportunity to talk about how I feel, my past experiences but also about the dreams that I have for my future.
1 He is referring to the work Staircase ΙΙ, 2004.
2 He is referring to the installation Bottari, 2005-2017.
3 He is referring to the Swedish Flying Carpet, 2001.
4 He is referring to the work Portraits, 1986 and Harpooned Fish, 1985.