Chessboard of the world

“Strategy games on the chessboard of the world:

Art installation at the University of the Aegean”

Artist: Fereniki Tsamparli 


Artistic statement: 

In late 1922, after a three-year war between the Greeks and the Turks, the Turkish army entered the city of Smyrna, located on the Asia Minor coast. One day later, a large part of the city burned with hundreds of thousands of people, desperately trying to save themselves, boarding small, overcrowded boats, crossing the nearby Aegean islands such as Lesvos, Chios, Samos, etc. 

In 2015, refugees cross the passage between Turkey and Lesvos again – this time people coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. By the end of the same year, about half a million refugees arrived on the island. So, the summer of 2015 there was an important time for Lesvos, as the island was experiencing a refugee crisis for the second time!

The island was full of refugees, reaching the east coast, often stacked in small, insecure, and overcrowded boats. Their first concern was to get rid of the unnecessary cargo – wet clothes and life jackets – in order to move forward to the recording centers that had been set up for this purpose in various parts of the capital Mytilene.

It is at this point in time that I return to the island from a short trip to Athens and the sight I see looking up from the window of the airplane are the abandoned orange refugee lifeboats that resembled a fire that burned the east side of the island. Both this particular sight in itself, with all its emotional charge, and the abandonment of lifeboats and other rescue materials on the island’s beaches, which temporarily threatened the marine and coastal environment, became a source of inspiration for an action that would combine, on the one hand the proper management of some of this “waste” (foam contained inside the jets and torn plastic boats); and on the other hand, to make, through art, a political hint for the situation in which all these people were facing based on decisions they had not made themselves.

This was the plan: The lifebloods of foam would make the chess pawns of a giant chessboard, while square pieces of abandoned plastic boats would make up the chessboard. The aim is to highlight two key issues: the refugee crisis and environmental protection.

Following a request to the University of the Aegean for funding of other materials (paint, glues, etc) and many days of voluntary and hard work, students and city dwellers, under my guidance, transformed these seemingly insignificant materials of the Aegean daily life in 2015, into 32 large pawns about 1.2 m high, mounted on a large (25m2) chessboard. From thirty-two chess pawns, after being coated with pulp, sixteen were painted in orange and the rest in green, thereby attempting an indirect reminder of the two issues that gave inspiration for the project (orange for the life jackets and green for the environment).


Myrto Tsilimpounidi


Photos by Iasonas Panagos (reproduced here with permission)