“Why are you not Angelina Jolie?”

he asked me intensely when I reached out my hand to give him a bar of soap, during a collective solidarity initiative, which was organised by the Binio Squat and the Workers’ Centre of Mytilene. The initiative took place on 21 June 2015 toward migrants and refugees who were living in the then temporary camp in the area of Kara Tepe in Mytilene.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, my friend, I’m not Angelina, but why do you say that?” I asked, without knowing that exactly the previous day the actor and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador had visited a refugee camp on the southeast coast of Turkey, in Mardin, in the context of World Refugee Day [1]. 

“Instead of just giving me this soap like you have, she could change my wet mattress and my muddy tent and give me a better place to live.”

The previous day, he later explained, a friend of his who lived in the Mardin camp complained to Angelina Jolie about his bed, and the actor, acting immediately, asked those in charge to replace it, which happened immediately. 

After he told me this story, he threw the soap he held in his hands, asking angrily: “of what use is this to me?” and I, chewing my words, ended up stuttering–I’m not sure he even heard me: “I’m sorry I’m me.”

I don’t know whether my friend was still on the island some months later, when Angelina Jolie visited the Moria hotspot (17 March 2016) and if he managed to address his requests to her.  What is certain is that the actor, in a meeting she had with NGOs and agencies on the island, declared her pessimism as to what extent an immediate response to the migrant and refugee crisis could be given. [2] In addition, in answer to a question regarding the consequences of the “refugee issue” for the economy of Lesvos and the need to stimulate tourism, she promised she would come on holidays to the island with her family. [3]

Naya Tselepi
December 2019




Lesvos news net, 17.3.16,

Symbols Symbols

Decoding a front page

In March 2016, the international edition of the emblematic newspaper The New York Times (for many synonymous with validity, for others, with dominant rhetoric) presented the refugee issue on its front page. In those days, as in the rather long period that preceded and followed, the refugee issue, Lesvos, and Greece, were in the epicentre of international news: radio and television journalists commented daily on the facts, and we constantly encountered boats full of people wearing orange life jackets crossing the sea between Turkey and Greece. At times, the images presented solidarians, rescuers, coast guards, migrants waiting in groups, and–more rarely–images of the reception units and the inhumane hotspots. Instead of the aforementioned, for the front page of the Times a photograph was chosen depicting temporary shelter in apartments in Athens.

In essence, the  attempts of the relevant authorities to cooperate in the (temporary and, indeed, partial) settlement of the tragedy were highlighted. Indeed, the photograph carries symbolisms, which create associations of wellbeing and social integration, since the central subject of the photograph is holding a mobile phone of the latest technology, resides in an apartment in a densely occupied neighbourhood, and finds himself, in the final analysis, inside the social body. Although this constituted a reality, it merely formed part of the whole situation and of the actual facts. Yet, in the way that it was represented on the front page (and elsewhere within the newspaper), it emerges as dominant–and given the absence of any other representation, as exhaustive.

The photograph’s caption (even though it indicates the location as Athens) inscribes in bold letters the title “Anywhere in Europe.” Yet, it must be noted that even though the photograph is central on the front page, except for its small caption, is not accompanied by any other text: this follows on page 3. However, what is interesting on a second reading is the total composition of the front page (on which the photograph constitutes a dominant element), and the way in which the themes are linked to produce a broader narrative, and speak to each other. First of all, the brief caption of the photograph speaks of migrants (that is, not Greeks) who in Greece “struggle in a dangerous speed race” to be integrated in the EU’s relocation program, and through that program to find themselves in other countries. Yet, the photograph lacks a central title, and so the title of the right-hand column is in an unofficial dialogue with the photograph: “Studies fail to indicate who turns to terrorism.” Therefore it implies, if not suggesting the possibility that the Syrian man in the photograph will become–if he is not already–a terrorist. The title of the column directly to the left of the photograph primes the “conversation” with another symbolic “subtext” of the period, the Islamic State.  The article refered to the capture of Palmyra, an historically and culturally symbolic place, which was under threat of destruction.  Two weeks before the publication of the newspaper, the tragic terrorist attack in Brussels had taken place. Directly below the central photograph of the “refugee issue,” and almost as if it was referring to the photograph,  another incident in Brussels is commented upon,  then suspected to be linked to terrorism, which, in the end, fortunately was not related to such an act. In any case, the article on page 3 describes the agonizing journey of the four residents of the apartment: from Aleppo to Idomeni, from the asylum application to the UNHCR-funded stay in Athens while waiting to be relocated in another country. Indeed, it adds their own words and their own fears of their uncertain future, “especially after Brussels.” 

Despite this, the front page itself does not at all reference the photograph and the vital issues that thousands of the fellow travellers of the person depicted face. Rather, through keywords and the use of symbols, associations of multiple threats and diffuse fear are created. At the same time, the news of the days and the actual living conditions–that is, in other words, what in other articles was characterised as a “humanitarian disaster.”  What is also concealed are the respective genders and ages of other migrants who suffered the consequences of war and flight, as well as the vengeful infrastructures and the torturous life in hotspots.

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019



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, 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, -mediterranean-undocumented-migration-europe-review-evidence.


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


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:



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


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


Walsh, David (2003) ‘UN conceals Picasso’s Guernica for Powell’s presentation’, World Socialist Website,

Guernica transformed by cartoonist Jovcho Savov.