Categories
Artworks

Life Jackets

Life Jackets by Ai Wei Wei (Installation at Berlin Konzerthaus)

Ai Weiwei used fourteen thousand life jackets that he had transported from Lesvos to Berlin to decorate the six marble columns of the Berlin Konzerthaus (Concert House) for the Cinema for Peace Gala, held there on February 15, 2016. Each life jacket was meant to represent a single refugee, while its larger-than-human scale was meant to draw attention to the sheer number of human lives affected by the refugee crisis. Ai’s installation coincided with his stay on Lesvos (January to April 2016), where he set up a workshop and collaborated with local and international artists and photographers (such as the Photography Association of Mytilene). Other artworks by Ai featuring life jackets were installed in Copenhagen and Vienna, while an exhibition of his work, much of it related to and/or produced in Lesvos, was held at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. 

According to the artist’s statements during a press conference held at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, as of July 2016, there were 500,000 life jackets–“the last thing you grab when you have to escape”–left on Lesvos. By removing them from the island and bringing them to other locations in Europe (to which most refugees arriving at the hotspots were prevented from travelling or relocating), the artist raises questions about the way in which goods, capital, and some people–those with powerful passports–move with ease across borders, while other people–including the vast majority of those displaced by war–remain stuck, are immobilised, and are enclosed by those same borders.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

References

AFP News Agency, “Ai Weiwei Life Jacket Installation Highlights Refugee Plight,” YouTube, July 13, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEFQTsQ37hE

Ai Weiwei at Cycladic, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, 2016, www.cycladic.gr/en/page/ai-weiwei-at-cycladic# 

AP Archive, “Ai Weiwei Turns Migrant Lifejackets into Art in Copenhagen,” YouTube, June 30, 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3u2zTWXi4s.

Azzarello, Nina, “Ai Weiwei Wraps Berlin’s Konzerthaus with 14,000 Refugee Life Jackets,” DesignBoom, February 15, 2016, www.designboom.com/art/ai-weiwei-life-jackets-refugee-konzerthaus-berlin-02-15-2016/.

Photos by Cheryl Howard

Categories
Artworks

“Emerging Economy” poster by Depression Era Collective

Artists’ Statement: 

“The Tourists” is a collective project for those who cross Southern Europe and for those who reach out to or watch them go by.  Devised and run by Depression Era, the project operates as a subversive tourism campaign. “The Tourists” respond to History-in-the-making: the wave of refugee and mass migrations from Asia and Africa to Europe and the simultaneous increase of global tourism in the Mediterranean.  These are parallel, converging global events producing states of emergency, distress investment, collateral conflicts and cultural patronage, at the same place, at the same time. The Tourist lives in a divided, burned-out, hyper-mediated public sphere. Her identity and citizenship are in flux; she is lost in transit, perpetually anxious, alienated, resigned or resisting;  he is a simulator of social involvement, impotent to frame History in anything more than a postcard, slogan or tweet. Among the narratives of power, encounter, arrival and departure featured in Global Media and contemporary art, the images and slogans of “the Tourists” expose seemingly idyllic landscapes containing the debris of unspeakable violence; frame portraits of women and men in alien places, strangers in their land, visitors among ruins, stateless, networked, indolent and conflicted; and document a generation of fearless children. It is not clear whether these belong to tourism ads or disaster news streams.

We find the poster by the Depression Era Collective a provocative reminder of the emerging humanitarian economy that was part of the management of crisis which included huge funds to NGOs that were responsible for the management of daily life in Lesvos. At the same time the government criminalised solidarity by people who were not registered as members or staff of NGOs with many cases of arrests of solidarians under the accusation of trafficking. This was a direct attack to an international movement of solidarity that was present on the island and an attempt to shift solidarity to humanitarianism.

Myrto Tsilimpounidi
December 2019

 


 

References

Depression Era Collective ‘The Tourists: a campaign’, https://depressionera.gr/tourists

Poster by Depression Era Collective
Photo by Myrto Tsilimpounidi

Categories
Symbols

The Unknown Migrant

This is a symbolic monument for the unknown migrant made by an unknown artist in Herakleion, Crete in order to commemorate the people who lost their lives in the Aegean Sea. The tag reads: to the unknown migrant, who died on the borders and due to slavery. This symbolic monument resembles the heroic representations of the national heroes and the unknown soldiers ‘who died fighting for the liberation of their country’ (sic). Perhaps this symbolic monument came at a time where the militarisation of the management of migrant and refugee flows made the aqueous border between Greece and Turkey one of the more dangerous in the world.   The militarization of the refugee crisis has involved the deployment of NATO in the Aegean and across the Mediterranean. It has extended the powers and scope of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, and the institution of a “standing corps” “to ensure a coherent management of the external borders and to be able to respond to situations of crisis a standing corps will be set up, with up to 10 000 operational staff by 2027.”[1] It has interpenetrated the national criminal legal systems with EU police and asylum agencies. It has outsourced the functions of the external borders not only through bilateral agreements (for instance, with Libya and Turkey) but also by weaponising the sea. This undeclared war through the practice of the militarisation of the sea[2] has made the Mediterranean and the Aegean crossings as lethal as possible, turning it into one of the deadliest borders on earth.[3]

Yet, even this quantification of deaths reflects what Martina Tazzioli has termed the  “politics of counting.” Here, efforts driven by solidarity with refugees that seek to make the deadly consequences of border regimes visible face a quandary: numbers are used to represent the extent, scale, or scope of human suffering and loss; yet, quantification is an intense form of depersonalisation, homogenisation, and dehumanisation. It is not incidental that, “[r]eflecting upon border deaths, the first image that comes to mind for many of us is a list of numbers”. In this light, perhaps this monument dedicated to the unknown migrant focuses on the militarisation of the refugee crisis, on the heroic subjects of this crisis whose deaths we need to remember. Even so, it becomes very difficult to avoid dehumanisation and depersonalisation when we refer to people with the label that they are given by the states and the border regimes that killed them (migrant, refugees, asylum seekers, etc).

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


[1] Council of the European Union, “Press Release: European Border and Coast Guard: Council Agrees Negotiating Position,” February 20, 2019, www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/02/20/ european-border-and-coast-guard-council-agrees-negotiating-position/

[2] “Migrants do not simply die in the sea, but through the strategic use of the sea . . . the Mediter- ranean has been made to kill through contemporary forms of militarized governmentality of mobility which inflict deaths by first creating dangerous conditions of crossing, and then abstaining from assisting those in peril.” Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani, “Liquid Traces: Investigating the Deaths of Migrants at the EU’s Maritime Border,” in Drift (New York: Nightboat, 2014), 658–59.

[3] International Organisation for Migration, “Four Decades of Cross-Mediterranean Undocumented Migration to Europe: A Review of the Evidence,” 2017, publications.iom.int/books/four-decades-cross -mediterranean-undocumented-migration-europe-review-evidence.


References:

Anna Carastathis, Aila Spathopoulou, and Myrto Tsilimpounidi, “Crisis, What Crisis? Immigrants, Refugees, and Invisible Struggles,” Refugee: Canada’s Journal on Refugees 34, no. 1 (2018): 29–38.

Martina Tazzioli, “The Politics of Counting and the Scene of Rescue.” Radical Philosophy 192 (July/August): 2015, 3, 5.


Monument of the unknown migrant in Herakleion, Crete

Categories
Symbols

Crucified life-jacket

In her essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak argues that if we are to account for the “micrological texture of power” that constitutes our subjectivities under global capitalism, we must attend to this double meaning of representation. In terms of this double meaning of representation, Spivak makes the following distinction between Vertretung and Darstellung. More precisely, Vertretung is defined as ‘stepping in someone’s place to tread in someone’s shoes’. Representation in this sense means ‘political representation’ or a speaking for the needs and desires of somebody or something. Darstellung is representation as re-presentation, ‘placing there’. As such, according to Spivak, the double meaning of representation is encapsulated in the notions of  ‘proxy and portrait’: ‘speaking for’ and ‘portraying’. If we are to understand how macrologies of power are congealed through the ‘micrological and often erratic’ process of subject-formation, then we must attend to the relationship between these two ‘irreducible’ yet ‘complicit’ senses of representation. According to Spivak the problem begins when we are speaking in the name of a subaltern group, or we are representing others as researchers, but also in our daily life. She insists that we must apply ‘persistent critique’ in order to be avoid the pitfall of ‘constructing the Other simply as an object of knowledge, leaving out the real Others because of the ones who are getting access into public places due to these waves of benevolence and so on’.

On December 2019, Pope Francis inaugurated a resin crucifix on which appears a life jacket, symbol of the death of many migrants in the Mediterranean. In his twitter account he wrote:

I decided to display this life jacket, “crucified”, to remind everyone of the imperative commitment to save all human life, because the life of each person is precious in the eyes of God. The Lord will call us to account at the hour of judgment.

In the Christian tradition, noted the Pope, “the cross is a symbol of suffering and sacrifice, but also of redemption and salvation.  Unveiling, what he called, a “crucified” life jacket on a transparent resin cross[2]. What is interesting is that this was not just any life jacket, as the Pope informed the public someone was wearing this life jacket but was drown in the Mediterranean sea. Why the need to crucify ‘a real’ life jacket? How bizarre and uncomfortable that the life jacket made the journey to Italy and all the way inside the Vatican, but the person who was wearing it lost his/her life while crossing the Mediterranean sea. This is an absolute reminder of the problematic representations that Spivak reffered to as ‘proxy’: to substitute the Other with an object and finally transform this into an object of knowledge that can be applied to substantiate any kind of knowledge: in this instance the life jacket stands for the dead body, and in that sense becomes an object that could be used in order to substabtiate the claim that the Pope (or even the Catholic church) care about human lives! All this while the ‘real Other’ is left outside of the frame.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


[1] Pope Francis (@Pontifex_en) December 20, 2019: https://t.co/Fnp5deccIL pic.twitter.com/HmGRYBOyrG

[2] https://www.santegidio.org/pageID/30284/langID/en/itemID/33816/Pope-Francis-and-the-refugees-from-Lesbos-unveiling-the-cross-of-migrantsIt-s-injustice-that-causes-migrants-to-die-at-sea.html


References:

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1988) “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, (eds.) Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Anna Carastathis & Myrto Tsilimpounidi (2020) Reproducing Refugees: Photographia of a Crisis. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.


 

Crucified cross in the Vatican, December 2019

Categories
Symbols

Aegean Guernica

In 1937 Pablo Picasso paints Guernica, probably what became his most well known painting, in order to express his opposition against the atrocities of Franco’s regime. In particular, Picasso’s work was a commentary on the destruction of the city of Guernica in the Basque country of Northern Spain. During the Spanish civil war in 1937, the city of Guernica was associated with the Republican resistance movement and was regarded as the epicentre of Basque culture. This is what made the city a significant and symbolic target for the Spanish Nationalist forces, which collaborated with Hitler’s Germany and bombed Guernica. Picasso’s oil painting on canvas is regarded as one of the most powerful anti-war artworks in the history of art and has since become a globally recognised symbol of the role and the power of artists in times of war, crimes, and atrocities. 

In February 2003, United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell was presenting the evidence in favour of going to war against Iraq at the United Nations Security Council. After the meeting with the officials, a press conference was scheduled outside of the UN council room that informed the world of the reasons and justifications for the US-led attack on Iraq. Yet, a very large tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica is located on the wall outside of the council room. Powell asked for the tapestry reproduction of Guernica to be covered with a blue curtain during this press conference. Replying to the questions of the journalists, United Nations officials claimed that the cover-up was simply a matter of creating a more effective backdrop for the television cameras: when we do have large crowds we put the flags up and the UN logo in front of the tapestry’ (Walsh, 2003). Of course the presence of mutilated bodies, distorted faces, and chaos on the background would be an ineffective and unappealing backdrop for justifying to a global audience that the US was planning to start a war in Iraq. The covered Guernica was a symbolic statement that spoke volumes about the power of art to raise consciousness, the representations of the horrors of war and fascism, and the inconvenient ‘art’ of UN’s diplomacy.

 In 2015, the cartoonist Jovcho Savov revisits Picasso’s Guernica in order to create a visual cry against the horrors of the ‘refugee crisis’. Savov uses the powerful nightmarish faces from Picasso’s painting provoking an intense feeling of suffering, fear, and inescapability. In Savov’s re-appropriation the figures are now in a boat drowning in the Aegean sea. In 2015, these bodies are named ‘refugees’ trying to escape wars and atrocities declared (or remaining undeclared) in front of covered Guernicas. Savov’s artwork has colour – while Picasso’s painting is black and white- and depicts on the background a cruising boat on the Aegean sea, perhaps a commentary by the artist that not all crossings are dangerous, not all bodies are drowning in the Aegean. The Aegean Guernica is a powerful reminder of the normalisation of war and not its inescapability.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


Reference: 

Walsh, David (2003) ‘UN conceals Picasso’s Guernica for Powell’s presentation’, World Socialist Website, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/02/guer-f08.html

Guernica transformed by cartoonist Jovcho Savov.

Categories
Wall writing

Arostxia

Artistic Statement: 

 

“arostxia” is to observe a lot and to say little.

 

“arostxia” is the silent action, the solitary and creative action, the imposing and at the same time discreet action. 

 

“arostxia” is the thin line between art and vandalism. 

 

Anything thay destroys but also creates life. The attempt to express the inner-self what is happening around. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad. An invitation to understand what one is carrying inside her/him. Optimism.

 

“arostxia”  is not something specific but difficult to describe. Impersonal and at the same time the greatest personal expression. Fully understandable and meanwhile so difficult to the extent that it irritates / annoys. Everywhere and nowhere.

 

  1. How do you see the correlation of your tag in relation to the spatial context of Lesvos. How does it relate to the other writings and realities of the island?

“arostxia”  is an inspiration that I had in 2013, having already spent two years on the island of Lesvos as a student. Then, among other things, it could perfectly describe my need for interventions in public space, and in combination with the small and relatively inactive society of Mytilene, it gave birth to a strange combination of creation and vandalism. Initially, it was the indignation towards the “wrong” conditions that existed on the island that helped to develop this part (of the interventions). Later, there were many situations that pushed me to think about it, and to start giving it a different dimension. Personally, I think it would find more suitable ground in a large urban concentration due to the volume of information and behaviors that exist around it, than in a provincial town like Mytilene. 

In the part of its correlation with the other writings of Lesvos, I consider that it is somewhere in the middle, that is, it is neither the ‘strict’ form of graffiti, which is a code of communication between the creators themselves almost exclusively due to its nature, nor does it fall completely in the political part where the social message is everything. It is located right in the middle.

 

  1. Has anything changed in relation to the style or the places you “write” in relation to the change of the reality of the island (refugee crisis & what has followed)?

From my point of view, at least, I can’t see any change in either the way I choose to intervene, and that lies in the fact that there is no luxury in choosing the space, and therefore in the ‘symbolic’ choice of the point. The only thing one can notice is how timely it [the tag] has been from time to time, and the degree to which it can express the concerns of some people by relating it to specific situations they are experiencing. But I can confidently add that this identification is by no means universal, but completely personal.

 

  1. How does the process of “writing” on the streets relate to the more personal process of writing academic texts? Does the one affect the other? And if so, how?

Although the process of writing on the street with the process of writing an academic text has some correlation in terms of their structure and their end result, I don’t think it affects one another. Since of course, in order to produce a specific result (whether it is graffiti or a text), some steps and a specific order are required. Yet, graffiti does not follow the rules so strictly, as it is a form of expression and creation of a different range. One requires a strict structure and sequence of steps while the other is quite flexible and structured based on the moment, nothing is fixed. Therefore, in these two processes we can observe similarities, but in my case I do not think that they are affected in any way, as far as the process is concerned. Topics are a different chapter.

 

  1. How do you feel now, in the era of COVID-19, that your tag can be read in other ways or it can take on other dimensions?

As I mentioned before, from time to time the tag becomes relevant, and will continue to be so. Things seem to be going from bad to worse, and our job is to record this a bit (in a more humorous tone).

 

  1. Anything else you want to tell us about the style, the points/places you choose, or how the tag changes from time to time?

If I can notice something interesting, it’s the way each person translates it. It is very special that everyone can perceive it from their own point of view and translate it differently. There are cases in which some people feel offended and rush to clean it thinking that I wish them bad things, and then, there are those who identify to such an extent that they have transferred it to their body and will always carry it. There are the indifferent, the aggressive, the friendly and the skeptical. But the common denominator is everyone’s curiosity. Who; Why; What does the writer mean?

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

photos by: Myrto Tsilimpounidi

Categories
Wall writing

(Freedom of) Movement

Freedom of Movement, 2018, Moria camp

Here I am, making another, bound to fail, attempt to position myself in a world characterized by mobility, liquidity, and speed, not the celebratory ones in which people, products, and ideas flow nicely as elaborated in the globalization studies mantra. The other one, in which you find yourself bumping awkwardly against walls, borders, fences, defenses, and hegemonic attitudes all the time. This is why I find it difficult to position myself, but for sure I know which side I am on. So, perhaps it is much more relevant to clarify this: I’m side by side with the ones who resist and revolt against dominant narratives, who fail and then join the collective depression, before they realize that they have to make room for queer failures and utopias, and, perhaps, then find the ways to resist again. At this very moment I’m struggling to make space again for hope and new utopias. Perhaps this is the most honest justification of the photographic workshop, accompanied by my training and my belief that, sometimes, theory has the capacity to dismantle and provoke certain reactions. Photographs have the capacity to capture the untold, the unspeakable, the untranslatable, all those delicate performances that are not registered in speech. Photography adds an invaluable layer to our logocentric qualitative data collection mechanisms. Perhaps this is another reason to use the medium of photography in order to invoke the soft, daily, omnipresent affects of crisis and the things yet to come. To quote Ursula Le Guin,

You cannot take what you have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy Utopia. You cannot make Utopia. You can only be the Utopia. Utopia is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere. It is for all or it is nothing. If it is seen as having any end, it will never truly begin. We can’t stop here. We must go on. We must take the risks.

So, utopia is a transforming force that plays with the limits of the human. Yet, as Susan Sontag says “humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth.” In this sense, most utopias are like photographs, offering glimpses at a moment or time that portrays the desirable outcomes of the utopian imagination. Utopia is a representation, evincing that which is not in itself present (this is the first meaning of the word “representation”, its theatrical or politico-moral meaning); specifically, it puts on display and makes present the impossible itself. Yet, to return to Plato’s cave, what limits and constitutes our understanding of utopian representations is the position of the guards.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

Movement, 2018, Moria camp

References: 

Extract from research diary published in: Tsilimpounidi, Myrto & Carastathis, Anna (forthcoming) ‘Facing Crisis: Queer Representations against the backdrop of Athens’, in Eithne, L. & Karma, C. (eds.) Queer Migrations 2: Illegalization, Detention, and Deportation. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. 

Susan Sontag (1973) On Photography. New York: Penguin.

Ursula Le Guin (1974) The Dispossessed. London: Millenium.


photos by: Myrto Tsilimpounidi

 

 

Categories
Crisis

Stealing from Migrants

Different evocations of “crisis” create distinct categories that in turn evoke certain social reactions. Post-2008, Greece became the epicentre of the “financial crisis”; simultaneously, since 2015 with the advent of the “refugee crisis,” it became the “hotspot of Europe.” As Anna Carastathis explains by the end of the summer of 2015, Greece was experiencing the schema of ‘nesting crises’. By ‘nesting crises’ Carastathis is referring to the dominant state discourse of a crisis within a crisis given temporal and spatial priority to the “sovereign debt crisis” while the refugee crisis is constructed as a sudden problem first emerging in the summer of 2015. This renders invisible its prehistory, namely the criminalised migration of people into the Greek territory and the relegation of long-standing migrant and refugee communities in Greece to the socio-legal margins of the society. Intersecting the discursive constructs of the financial crisis and the refugee crisis, we are able to see how they are constituted through a process of mutual exclusion and prototypically: the prototypical subject of the financial crisis is the Greek citizen, while that of the refugee crisis is the displaced Syrian family who deserve international protection.

Photo 1: Hey boss, I am stealing from Migrants, Mytilene, 2017
Photo 2: …Migrants, Mytilene, 2019

 

In this era of the nesting crises, Lesvos has witnessed its economy flourishing. From the many stories and testimonies of charging 5 euros to migrants and refugees for a bottle of water which price is set at 50cents in Greece, to locals keeping the boats in which the refugees arrived on the shores in exchange for dry clothes and a blanket, this growing economy is build on human suffering. Sebastian Leape informs us that European funding alone in 2017 worked out at 7,000 euros for every refugee living in Greece. If we add to that works of the NGOs, solidarians, journalists, researchers, and photographers arriving in Lesvos to document the ‘refugee crisis’ we have only a partial understanding of how the crisis boosted the local economy, rapidly increased housing prices in Mytilene, supported the local stores, and provided a new life for the island. Image 1 was shot in 2017 at a central location in the city of Mytilene and the tag reads ‘Hey boss, I am stealing from migrants’. Image 2 was shot at exactly the same place in 2019, the wall is now painted over and the remaining tag reads ‘migrants’.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi
December 2019


References:


Carastathis, Anna (2018) “Nesting Crises.” Women’s Studies International Forum 68: 142-148.

Carastathis, Anna – Spathopoulou, Aila –  Tsilimpounidi, Myrto (2018) ‘Crisis, what crisis? Immigrants, Refugees, and Invisible Struggles’, Refugee: Canada’s Journal on Refugees. Vol. 34 (1): 29-38. 

Leape, Sebastian (2018) ‘Greece has the means to helo refugees on Lesbos – but does it have the will?’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/sep/13/greece-refugees-lesbos-moria-camp-funding-will


Photos by Myrto Tsilimpounidi

Categories
Crisis

Moria = Murder

Conditions in the detention centre in Moria outside Mytilene, dubbed the “Guantánamo Bay of Europe” and “the worst refugee camp on earth”; an illegal de facto regime of indefinite, arbitrary incarceration of people in Moria or on the island.

The characterization “Guantánamo Bay of Europe” draws a parallel to the notorious offshore US military prison in the Naval Base in Guantánamo, Cuba (captured during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and “leased” to the US in 1903 with no expiration date, an “agreement” that Cubans regard as an instance of US imperialism). It is based on a statement made by Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Migration Commissioner, reacting to the proposal of European Council President Donald Tusk, inspired by an earlier suggestion by Hungarian President Viktor Orbán, that the EU create “regional disembarkation platforms” outside the EU, where agencies collaborating with UNHCR and IOM would sort so-called legitimate asylum seekers from economic migrants, before they reach EU borders. Avramopoulos’ protestations that such a proposal goes against “European values”. In fact, evincing the tendentiousness of the offshore/onshore distinction, here, a number of journalistic articles have, before and since Avramopoulos’ declarations, referred to Lesvos/Moria as the “Guantánamo Bay of Europe,” quoting conservative Lesvos Mayor Spyros Gallinos, and indicating the scenario officials variously propose or reject is already a reality under the current European Agenda on Migration. 

A reference to Moria as the worst refugee camp on earth is the title of a documentary aired on BBC produced by reporter Catrin Nye, who “went inside” Moria during a media blackout enforced by the Greek military, who have authority over the prison camp. The characterisation is based on a statement by Luca Fontana, Médicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) Coordinator in Lesvos, who says “Lesvos is the worst place I’ve been, in my whole life, and in my whole MSF experience; and I’ve been working in several countries, war zones; I’ve been working in refugee camps in Central African Republic, in Congo; in the biggest Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2014-15. But I’ve never seen—ever—the level of suffering we are witnessing here, everyday.”  MSF operates a clinic just outside the camp since 2016, when along with most INGOs and UNHCR withdrew from Moria and the other hotspot camps in protest, as they were turned into detention centres after the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. “We took the extremely difficult decision to end our activities in Moria because continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane … We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants,” said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF Head of Mission in Greece, cited in The Press Project, “UNHCR and NGO’s withdraw from Greek islands, tension is rising in Idomeni.” 

Moria refugee camp was originally intended to hold 3,000 people and in 2019 it has grown to become a shanty town of 19,000, from which according to journalist Harriet Grant 40% of whom are under 18. Around 13,000 of those are living in a filthy unofficial camp of tarpaulin tents and makeshift huts made of pallets, in an olive grove surrounding the main site. There is no electricity, not enough water and rivers of mud and rubbish run through the tents. To incarcerate someone in Moria in these conditions equals murder.

Myrto Tsilimpounidi
December 2019


 

‘Moria = murder’ wall writing in Mytilene, December 2019
Photo by Anna Carastathis

Categories
Artworks

Marble Tent

Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside) by Rebecca Belmore

Constructed out of local materials–marble–and installed next to the most iconic architectural feature of the Athenian cityscape, Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside), was one of the artworks exhibited during Documenta 14 (2017). Belmore hand carved a hyperrealistic tent—in this context, instantly recognisable as a symbol for refugees, since it is often their accommodation on the island hotspots and in mainland camps. As the refugee crisis becomes “a state of perpetual emergency,” the “makeshift retreat” of the tent becomes a shelter in the regime of waiting that characterises displaced lives who have sought international protection in hostile political communities. Yet, as Belmore explains, “[t]he shape of the tent is, for me, reminiscent of the wigwam dwellings that are part of my history as an Indigenous person,” Belmore explains: “Wigwams (wiigiwaam in Anishinaabemowin), traditionally constructed of bentwood of young trees and covered with birch bark, are a rather ingenious solution for building with the materials available at hand,” enabling nomadic people “to make their home wherever necessary.” 

The obvious contrast between the form–a tent–and the material out of which it is constructed–marble–raises questions about how what is meant to offer temporary protection or shelter on the move, becomes physically emplaced, static, and stuck: a permanent condition, as immobile and as heavy as the marble itself. At the Moria hotspot and the camp surrounding it, where such tents are pitched, not for days or weeks, but for months and years, they are a testament to the struggle for survival in adverse conditions of winter weather and political indifference and cynicism.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

References

Documenta 14: Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside, 2017) Marble (140 × 200 × 200 cm) https://www.rebeccabelmore.com/biinjiyaiing-onji-from-inside/

Photos by Scott Benesiinaabandan