33 years old
I’d like to thank all the organizations that put this program together. May God bless them, because each day we learn something new. Every time we come to the Museum1 there are always images to see, and each of them symbolises something. They sometimes bring on very intense feelings that make me want to cry, but then I think, what I’m looking at is art, and thinking of this helps. Here at the Museum2 I felt for the first time in my life that as a human being I am a work of art, too—that each of us is a work of art, with their own story to tell and messages to convey. And I want to say to all my brothers and sisters here, to the refugees, compatriots and friends—call them what you will, I think of them as family—that we have the chance here to light up the darker places in our mind, the dark memories of the terrible things we’ve experienced, and to feel human again.
I understand and feel for the man3 who was so moved by Bill Viola’s work4. But I want to tell him he needs to chase away the despair he’s caught in. Looking at this work, I felt in the end a kind of optimism because I thought, I’ve made it through a very difficult time. I lived through a tragedy but in the end, I managed to get to Greece, and now I’m ready to rid myself of the hopelessness inside me and start a new life.
This work, then, shows us a group of people gathered together, all from different nationalities, just like us. Each of them is doing something different—one of them is reading, another is listening to music, etc.—while we’re all sitting here around a table discussing the same thing. Among the figures in the image is a man who’s perhaps a priest, or the leader of a church or religion, or maybe a political figure. He’s reading something and wants to communicate with the others, and everyone around him seems ready to listen to him. But at the same time, it also feels like they can’t communicate with each other or understand what the others have on their mind. They’re willing to talk to each other, but, in the end, that doesn’t happen.
That happens a lot in real life, too. People from different countries want to communicate and find solutions to their problems but then some outside force, like the water in the artwork we’re talking about, comes and stops them. It prevents people—and different countries, too—from taking that very first step to communicate with each other. But we also see that even though there is a violence in the way the water is attacking these people, at the same time it’s as if the water is waking them up and they’ll recover later and change their attitude.
In the work with the harpooned fish and the portraits around it5, I saw a symbol of hope. When hope ceases to exist or when it’s damaged, then, as time goes on, a sense of disappointment emerges. And if people lose hope on their journey from youth to old age, it’s like moving from life to death. That’s what came to mind when I saw the last picture with the elderly man. I believe that even when you feel imprisoned—trapped—like the fish in the picture in the middle, you mustn’t give up trying, wherever you are, however trapped you feel. Otherwise, old age will leave you paralyzed.
As a refugee, I felt that the fish also symbolized all that sense of confinement I’ve experienced: first the horrible events I experienced in my village, and then the very hard and painful journey I made to escape, and now, my wounded present. I left my country for political reasons and now I’m here, alone with my children, and I don’t know if my husband is alive or dead. Even though what happened to me is a reality that seems to be stronger than I am, I have to try to get over it, to leave it behind and make a new start. For me, the artwork with the fish is very much like the journey of my life and the gradual passage from youth to old age. I feel these days like the wounded fish; the only thing I’m afraid of is old age. I want to do something with my life, to achieve something, to make something of myself before I reach the darkness of old age. Because if life is a fish and you lose it, you have to catch another one and continue with that one. In the end, that man6 isn’t just an artist. He’s a philosopher, and his work is profound and realistic.
The threads in Janine Antoni’s work7 symbolize for me the pain and effort we need to make to achieve what we want, and the blanket the artist has woven is the help we give each other. I really appreciated what Zainab8 had to say to us about her dream for the future. I also have a dream like that: I hope one day to work in the European Union as my country’s ambassador and work for peace.
Here in Greece they say “siga-siga” (little by little). We need to be patient in order to become what we want to be. As they say in every religion, we must stand together, hand in hand. Only in this way, truly united, in a country that makes this unity possible, only in this way can we move on and create a new history from the beginning.
1 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
2 Refers to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
3 She’s referring to Ghassan, who also took part in the programme.
4 The Raft, 2004.
5 Refers to Costas Tsoclis’ Portraits, 1986 and The Harpooned Fish, 1985.
6 Refers to Costas Tsoclis.
7 Refers to the work Slumber, 1994
8 She’s referring to Zainab, a 16-year-old girl from Afghanistan, who took part in the program.