23 years old
From our first meeting in the programme1, I felt great. In the works of art we saw and discussed, I saw elements of my life that I have left behind in Syria but also of the life that I started here in Heraklion. This is the first time I have felt this way.
For me, the installation by Vlassis Caniaris2, where suitcases are located next to each human figure, symbolises escape. Also, the game, Hopscotch, has a lot to do with fleeing. You throw a stone and off you go. I did exactly the same thing. It was like I threw a stone, so I could leave. I packed my suitcase and I came here from Syria.
Each figure in the work is different: one has a small suitcase on their side, one has a big one and another has three suitcases. Perhaps the suitcase symbolises the money each one has, the class struggle, the diversity or problems. But, in the beginning, all those who leave their country feel like they have lost everything. They feel surrounded by chaos, by a blank. They can be neither sad nor happy. Whatever happens, they have that same feeling, the blank. These feelings are depicted by the figures of Caniaris, which are headless.
One of the first challenges all refugees face is how to access basic necessities, since at first we have no idea where the shops are, where the market is. We can’t find them on our own and we are afraid. But hardship makes one stronger. And not only that. Hardship changes a person!
The Staircase by Do-Ho Suh3 is a very strange installation. I would say that the staircase leads to something positive, to where one wants to get to, to a “soulful summer.” But these stairs and the way you can climb them is strange, and you may not make it to the summer. I like this artwork because it shows the effort, the future, a person’s ability to get to where they want to. My own “soulful summer” is my family.
My family did not encourage me to leave Syria. Along the way, though, they really supported me. My parents and the rest of my family stayed behind. Here I have only my little brother with me, who is nine years old. He came here just before school closed for the summer, so he’ll start the next school year.
Before leaving Syria, I liked to sit on the balcony at home, because it was quiet. It brought me peace. Here I haven’t found such a place yet. I would love to be in the mountains, but I haven’t been to any mountain in Crete yet. The sea close to us does not really impress me.
I believe that Kimsooja created these bundles4 to show us elements from her culture and traditions. We also made these bundles in Syria to keep our clothes, as we had no storage space. And the fabrics the artist uses, the bed covers, are similar to the ones we use too. In fact, we often wear them as headscarves. They come in different colours, different qualities and different lengths. The one I’m wearing today, for example, is totally different from the one I wore yesterday.
When I walk on the street, I often feel people looking at me in a strange way and I understand that it is because of the hijab. But I don’t see it as racism. It doesn’t bother me. Besides, I have never heard people say something that disturbs me.
Each bundle, or Bottari, in the work of Kimsooja could symbolize a person, each one with their own characteristics. The green one, for example, could represent the love we carry inside us. Inside my bundle, I would put those secrets that are precious to me. And the bundle would be tight, because I wouldn’t want anybody to see them. I do not agree with Mo-Sabi5, that we must not keep secrets. I may have a special secret that I don’t want to share with others. I want to keep it for me. Even when I’m very happy, I want to keep it for me.
The only way I might undo the bundle and share my secret with others, is when the importance I attribute to it will have changed, when it will have become less important to me.
At first, I couldn’t figure out the artwork by Alexandros Georgiou6. It looked like mountains, or ruins. Ruins from bombings. Then I realised that there was an archaeological element in yellow. Yellow symbolises light, something valuable, but also peace. From ancient civilizations, we have learnt everything. Had they not existed, we would not have progressed. Today’s culture would not have evolved so much. We are the continuation of ancient civilisations.
Syria had an age-old history and now everything has vanished because of the war. This is what the work by Costas Tsoclis7 reminded me of. The Harpooned Fish is my country, which has been destroyed. Around it – just like the portraits around the fish – are the other countries, which do nothing to save it. But, the fish is fighting to save itself, so as long as it’s fighting, there’s hope.
Thanks to the work Sails by Bia Davou8 I learned about the story of Odysseus’s homeward voyage and I really enjoyed it. It made me think that our daily life is also a journey since, when we leave our houses, so many things can happen along the way, pleasant or unpleasant, that we haven’t planned. I also liked how Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, waited for him for so many years.
The work of Kostis Velonis9 consists of a carpet made of wood. I find it odd that it’s made from this material. In Syria we make carpets out of wool. Some are so fine while others are so thick that your feet sink inside them so much that you can’t even see them.
Also, the carpet made by Velonis looks like a flying one. I remember when I was young, my mother telling me the story of a flying carpet. It’s probably an Arabian tale that you may not know.
There was once a woman who had three daughters. Maybe my mother told this story because she had three girls too. One of the daughters had an active imagination and was always looking for curious and wondrous, unrealistic things. One day, leaving home to go for a walk, she saw a carpet. She wondered what this carpet was. She approached it, stepped on it, and it began to fly. The flying carpet transported her to another world, to a world of fantasy, where everything was much bigger than her: the table, the glass, the apple, everything, all that existed was all huge! Soon after, a huge man appeared and asked her: “What are you doing here?” At first she was very scared, but then she started talking to him. The man told her that she could make three wishes and that he would grant l them for her. The girl replied that she only had one wish: she wanted to have wings to fly and, after travelling and discovering the entire world, to return home. The man did indeed fulfil her wish. So after she travelled and discovered the entire world, she returned home, to her mother. But her mother, seeing her like that, with the wings, did not recognise her. She had changed. At that point, the girl felt distress and started to cry. In the end, she decided to leave again and travel forever.
Perhaps, the girl in the story is me.
1 Refers to the meetings that took place in Heraklion, Crete, in the framework of the programme Face Forward …into my home, during which this narrative was recorded.
2 Refers to Hopscotch, 1974.
3 Refers to Staircase II, 2004.
4 Refers to the work Bottari, 2005-2017
5 Mo-Sabi, who is 19 years old, from Iraq, was also a participant in the programme on Crete.
6 Refers to Athens, Parthenon, 2007-2008.
7 Refers to the works Portraits, 1986 and Harpooned Fish, 1985.
8 Refers to Sails, 1981-1982.
9 Refers to the work Swedish Flying Carpet, 2001.