29 years old
Of all the artworks I saw in the Museum1, Vlassis Caniaris’ Hopscotch stood out the most. In this installation, there are human figures in a space that’s bounded by a wooden frame. Only one figure, at the back, is outside the frame in the open space. To me, it means that this man has crossed the border. What I mean is, if [the game of] hopscotch symbolizes what being a refugee is like, then this man has played and won and now is beyond the borders. You can also tell by the way he’s standing that he’s the winner of this game. If you look at the figures inside the wooden frame, you see that one is sitting on a suitcase and the other is standing up waiting. The figure outside the frame has his arms raised as if he’s shouting to us “I won”.
The fact that there’s only one figure outside the frame and all the others are still inside and deep in thought shows how hard this all is. I also think that the way the figure is facing the others is supposed to convey a positive message, as if he’s saying, “Look, as soon as I won this game and crossed the border, I was safe, and you can do it, too.” Of course, now that he’s crossed the borders, he has to face a new “game”, which he must also win. And that’s adjusting to the host country.
I identify with the figure who has managed to win.
I came to Greece with my family through Turkey. The people in both Turkey and Greece were friendly, the food was like what we used to eat in Iran, and generally, the atmosphere in both countries felt familiar. Now the three of us—my husband Kourosh2, my son and me—have settled in Athens.
Of course, we know that in a foreign country, things are different from what they are in our country. We weren’t expecting them to be the same. When you leave your country to start a new life elsewhere, you’ve got to be able to adjust. What we can do, though, is to shape our environment and the space we live in to give us a feeling of the life we had back home. One simple way is filling our home with pictures of our loved ones, such as our mother and brothers and sisters. When we look at them we have the feeling they’re close by.
The artist Do-Ho Suh is trying to convey something similar in his artwork3. When he got to New York City, he didn’t expect to find the tranquillity of his father’s house in Korea. But he decided to create a calm and peaceful work of art that would let him bring some of the peacefulness of the village to the noisy city of New York.
Unfortunately, Kourosh and I couldn’t take part in all the sessions at the Museum4. We started language classes5 and most days the lessons coincided with the workshops at the Museum. Still, to the extent that I did take part, I really liked the program and the discussions we had with other participants. As soon as they told us about the program, I thought it sounded interesting and I signed up right away. I’ve been in Greece for a year and have taken part in other nice programs for refugees, but this one was different.
I want to find a job in Greece so that I can be creative and do something for my family. I studied mathematics in Teheran with the idea of becoming an engineer. I realize it’s difficult for me to work here in this area. But perhaps I could begin with something simple that I like doing and can do well, like being a manicurist. That may be an idea to start out with.
My favourite parts of Athens are Syntagma and the National Garden, where I go for walks. I like the Garden because it relaxes me. I love flowers. One of my dreams is to have a house in Athens with a garden. I would really like to take care of a garden, like I used to do at my family house in Teheran.
My biggest dream, though, is to see my son grow up and become a man who’s successful in life.
1 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
2 Ava’s husband, Kourosh, also took part in the programme.
3 Refers to Staircase II, 2004.
4 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
5 In Greek as a Foreign/Second Language.