Samos YoungArtists Festival

Sallie Latch

*1933, USA

Sallie Latch is a self-taught American artist, world traveller, retired teacher, and life-long peace activist. At age 83, she "still wants to change the world." Art Space Pythagorion is delighted to present a new performance piece by Latch commissioned for this exhibition. {NAME OF PERFORMANCE} is a dramatic interpretation of interviews Latch recorded when she travelled to Greece in 2016 to document the journeys of refugees arriving on the island of Samos.

Latch grew up in a family that saw beyond constructed borders. Peace and justice were main topics of her daily conversations. Forced to flee the pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, Latch's family knew the difficulty and pain of being outsiders. An impoverished family of refugees themselves, they impressed upon Latch that fairness and equality applied to everyone, irregardless of race, sexual identity, class, ethnicity, religion, or lack thereof. Latch writes, "Now, at age 83, these thoughts still play on me. They were there when I saw a posting on Facebook that depicted a man in Greece holding a dead refugee child in his arms saying, 'Why isn't anyone helping us? Why are we alone?' My first reaction was that I wanted to help. So I did some research on volunteering which ultimately brought me to Samos Volunteers. It didn't take long before I signed up."

When she told her family and friends of her decision, most looked at her quizzically. A few cheered her on. The greatest cheering came from her dear friends and fundraisers, including her sponsors at the Global Justice Center, Mexico.

But as Latch opened the door to the refugee experience, European countries were shutting theirs. The camps that had been open were now called "hot spots" and their gates were locked, turning refugees into detainees. Latch's plans for how she would care for the people had come undone. She was forced to come up with a Plan B. Right in front of her were thousands of stories that needed to be heard, and Latch was willing to listen. As she says, "This was my chance. Refugees, immigrants, and those who have helped them had to be seen as people; people just like us. Mass media wasn't doing this, so I decided. I would do it."

A 17-year-old Syrian boy taught Latch how to record using an iPod. Like many other refugees, he was willing to tell his story as long as his name and face remained hidden. He became her first interviewee, followed by many more. Refugees, local Greeks, and other volunteers came forward with their stories, many of whom had worked valiantly to relieve the suffering of the thousands fleeing to Samos to escape the death and destruction occurring in their homeland.

As Latch reflects, "These interviews are not just audio recordings for me. They are the spirit of the people who have shared their most private thoughts, pain, and suffering with me. We have cried together, hugged together, and lamented the needless pain and suffering in the world together.... I feel honoured that I have been entrusted with their stories and that I can give them to you to value as I do. May their voices spur us on to take the action needed to bring the peace and justice we all crave and deserve. Salam, Shalom, Paz, Peace, Parakalo!"

The refugees' stories are narrated by the Samos Theatre Group.

 

Sallie Latch with Dina, a young Afghani girl, at the port of Samos
Photo: Maureen Charters