26 years old
All the artworks we saw in the Museum1 are engraved in my memory. I’ll never forget them. Each time we entered the room where we used to meet,2 I couldn’t wait to see which one we’d be talking about. They all had a lot of hidden meanings and in order to discover them we had to concentrate very hard on the image. I couldn’t take my eyes off these artworks, I couldn’t see anything else in the room but them. They all talked in a symbolic way about life, about feelings, about everything. That’s the kind of art I like, not art that’s too realistic.
In one artwork3 we could see a group of people, who all seemed to be absorbed in the problems of their daily life. I don’t think these people know each other. They’re all strangers, all different, all from different cultures. One of them looks like a priest, another like a doctor. From their clothes I get the impression that some of them are well-off and have a comfortable life somehow. And don’t seem concerned with the person next to them. Each of them is busy with something personal, a book or their cell phone. There’s a man in the group, the one with the purple shirt and the bag in front, who seems to be from the Middle East. He looks tired, as if he’s recently left his country and is caught up in his problems. They all want to say something but nobody talks. Until the water comes and hits them like a wave… Until this violent force comes and forces them to say something, to do something—to wake up. That’s why I see the pounding of the water as something positive. The wave, this force that assaults them, it’s telling them: wake up!
You see, in the beginning they weren’t united but after the water hits, they try to get up and help each other and make something for their future. Just as I left behind my family and friends to start a new life for myself all over again. There’s a saying, when you fall from a horse you have to get back up again. That’s how I’m living my life.
To me, Costas Tsoclis’ piece4 depicts a family with a father, mother and son. There’s no girl. They don’t seem to be well-dressed or have much money. But you get the sense looking at them that they’re satisfied with their life. The fish in the middle that’s pinned down represents for me the woman who’s missing, the girl. That’s what I see, that’s what it makes me think of. What I mean is that the fish symbolizes a woman in society, who doesn’t have any rights and is tied down and restricted. As for the colors and the light, they don’t inspire much optimism either.
You can interpret each artwork in a lot of different ways, and during our conversations5 we would each give our opinions. But if you give it a little thought, you realize that we’re all saying more or less the same thing. Our views resemble each other. They’re not much different really, because we’ve all lived through a great hardship, a great adventure, and we all share a common history. After all that we’ve been through, we’ve all come together here. We’re united. I live in a 7-storey building, with people from different countries and religions, Muslims, Christians, everybody. We learned here how to live together in unity.
After what’s happened in my country, people began to look at life in a different way. Before, everybody wanted to have a big house and lots of money and expensive things. Now they’re happy with just a little house and a little bit of money, just enough for the family to get by on. That’s enough to satisfy them. I was studying to be a painter. That was my great dream, to become a painter. But I was in a car accident, which left me with problems when I move my right hand, so I couldn’t continue. Then I had another accident—I was hit by a grenade. When I got out of the hospital, I thought I’d never manage to do anything with my life, that I was totally ruined. Then my mother told me that she had once seen a man who had lost both his hands but still continued to paint—with his foot. As soon as I heard that, I went to my room and tried to draw with my left hand and I saw that I could. It’s really hard, but in the end, it’s not impossible, and with a little practice, I’ll be able to paint better.
When I paint I like to use a lot of different shades of just one color. I don’t like a lot of colors in a painting. I think you can say a lot of things in a simple way with just one color. That’s why I really liked the piece with the loom6, where the artist drew her dreams on the blanket in just one color, which was white. Maybe it’s because my life up to now has been very complicated and I’m looking for simplicity.
When my father died—he’d been a well-known journalist in Syria for over 30 years—my mother and sister hid it from me, so I wouldn’t get upset, since I had problems of my own with the accidents. I only found out a year and a half later. Now, the only thing I truly want, with all my heart, is to manage to make my father proud of me.
1 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
2 Refers to the group sessions at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, where this narrative was recorded.
3 Refers to Bill Viola’s work, The Raft, 2004.
4 Refers to The Harpooned Fish, 1985.
5 Refers to the group during whose sessions at the National Museum of Contemporary Art this narrative was recorded.
6 Refers to Janine Antoni’s installation, Slumber, 1994.