26 years old
The first time I saw Vlassis Caniaris’ work, Hopscotch, I realized that the figures were refugees, confined within the frame defined by the country they arrived at. Their dreams and possibility of professional rehabilitation are all determined by the frame defined by the host country. We see only men around a game to be played, exactly as it initially happened in Syria: only men were leaving, followed by their wives after two or three years. In my case, I was forced to play this game by myself. I had to leave home and my family. And, of course, it was not an easy decision. You know, in Syria we’ve all lost someone close either in war, in the middle of the sea, or because they are in another country and we’ve lost track of them. Also, most of us who have left and have reached safety here have left our parents behind, who are elderly and therefore unable to make this trip. Now we do not even know if we’ll ever see them again.
From the figures in the work, I could be the one at the back, on the right, the one without luggage. I had a huge adventure until I got to Greece. Crossing the Syrian mountains, I had to go through a city occupied by ISIS, where I stayed for about two months. These were the worst days of my life. I had to pretend to be a Muslim. I took off the cross my mother had given me before I left, I wore a burqa and I was hiding from house to house because if anybody realized that I was a Christian, they would kill me in public. I was afraid, I could not sleep. Within this period, the smuggler stole my bag with all my belongings: clothes, mobile phone, identity card, everything. Even the souvenirs my sisters had given me, even my mother’s cross. I asked him to keep everything else and give me back the cross, but he did not because it was gold.
Now I live in a building in the centre of Athens. I asked to be alone in the room, without a roommate, to feel more comfortable. So, I have my personal space, where I can relax and feel safe. Even if I don’t feel this place is like home – for me home is only where my mother is – there, despite the difficulties I endured, I still manage to dream. My dream is to be able to finish my studies and have a little girl whom I will call Meriem, the name of Virgin Mary.
Bia Davou’s work1 made me feel just the way I felt in the boat, travelling from Turkey to Greece. There weren’t any sails, of course, but the feeling was exactly the same. This may surprise you, but it is something that we Syrians feel and, I imagine, anybody who has experienced similar situations: when we see an image of the sea, we remember our journey, [and] when we see a suitcase, we remember the things we brought with us from back home. Psychologically, it’s a difficult situation. We need time to get over it. That’s why everything we see is connected with war and our adventures. Even now, I wake up and feel like I’m in Syria. I need some more time to get used to it and get over it.
I like seeing works created by female artists. I believe that every woman, wherever she lives, wants to be creative and to contribute to changing things about her place and role in society. Even in Arab countries, where women get married early and have to stay at home – often at the age of eleven – make dreams and try to change some things, first inside them and then outside, in society. Of course, this is not easy. Every girl learns from her mother how to take care of the house and the rest of the family and this passes from generation to generation. But any newly married girl you ask, what her dream is, her answer would be to finish school, go to university and continue to dream of the future. It is only that, after marriage, these dreams have to end. I’d really like to know what the men in our group think about the role of women in today’s society.
Still, I believe that women, even if they leave home and work, will never have the same rights as men do. In the end, they will have to be at home, to cook, to wash, to raise the children, meaning that all the responsibility for the home will still be hers. Even religion treats men and women differently. I am a Christian. My religion tells me that when a woman gets sick, her husband has the right to get married again. But the opposite is not the case. I know many women in Syria who have lost their husband and continue their lives, raising their children without any support, without getting married again.
Speaking of religion, the work about Parthenon by Alexandros Georgiou2 made me think that even in our days, in times of crisis or war, people still resort to their temples – be it a mosque or a church – and pray. And while we all have this common feeling of faith in God, very bad things happen. I’ll tell you an example of what is happening in Syria: my family and I used to go to church every Sunday. We were advised not to go all together to the same church, but each to a different one, as attacks are frequent. Any moment an explosion can happen in a church, especially on feast days, so an entire family could be lost. We then started going to different churches, knowing that there was the possibility that a member of the family may not return home. It was terrible! Especially lately, we were going to church feeling tremendously afraid.
This is the situation in my country. Here, in Athens, I see other unpleasant things happening too. For example, I see young people doing drugs on the pavements. This is something I have never seen before and it scares me. But I want to say that, as in Georgiou’s grey work, the Parthenon stands out in its shiny yellow colour, and each of us, whatever our religion, must strive for a positive change within. And dark as the way here has been, at the end of the tunnel there will always be light.
1 Refers to Sails, 1981-1982.
2 Refers to Athens, Parthenon, 2007-2008.