from August, 5th until
Curated by Katerina Gregos
We had a place that we could call home...
A World Not Ours, the summer exhibition for Art Space Pythagorion, Samos, borrows its title from the award-winning homonymous 2012 film by director Mahdi Fleifel, which in turn borrows its name from a book by the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani (1936–72). The film is a portrait of three generations of exile in the refugee camp of Ein el-Helweh, in southern Lebanon, while the book speaks about diaspora and the search for identity. The exhibition takes place in a location which has been at the heart of the refugee crisis that began in 2015, largely as a result of the war in Syria. Samos is one of the three Greek islands (together with Lesbos and Kos) closest to the Turkish coast, and as such has been at the crux of this humanitarian tragedy that has been played out on the region’s shores. Given the highly charged location, it is vital that an art exhibition here should address this situation, which has been an unremitting reality on the island, and a pressing, unresolved issue for the whole of Europe. The exhibition focuses on the issue of the refugee crisis and forced migration by bringing together a group of artists, photographers, filmmakers and activists who offer different reactions, reflections, and analyses on the subject. Bringing together diverse practices from installation, performance, photography, film, video and photojournalism, the participants in the exhibition largely transcend one-sided and standardised media representations of the crisis (mostly consisting of rickety boats and images related to the perilous sea crossing) and look into the before and after this dramatic moment. The work on view provides deeper insight into the plight of the refugees, from a humanitarian point of view, acknowledges the complex roots of one of the most pressing issues of our time, while contextualising it into the larger global picture. A key idea underlying the exhibition is also that of of engendering empathy – which is perhaps one of the things than can spur us to action. It considers what Susan Sontag has said we often see pain in images but we cannot feelit. Therefore it aims to make the whole issue more palpable and tangible for the public. Harnessing methods that range from activism and direct action to poetics and metaphor, the participants in the exhibition provide a reflection on the issues of forced displacement and the experience of homelessness, perpetual insecurity, diasporic identity and existential limbo. The work that is on view is the result of in-depth, long-term research, on-the-ground engagement and first-hand experience. The works here offer genuine empathy and sincere motivation, as opposed to what Tirdad Zolghadr has been called ‘poornography’ (1): the use of images of poverty and precariousness to create sensational images in the media as well as in art. In the contemporary art world, the refugee crisis has unfortunately engendered opportunism, with some rushing in to profess their engagement by producing facile one-liners and generating publicity for their own sake. This exhibition, rather, includes artists who opt for a nuanced way of working with these highly sensitive issues, who stay under the radar, working with discretion, thoughtfulness and beneficence. Many of the participants come from the Middle East or southeastern Europe, from countries that have experienced war, trauma, exodus and perilousness first hand.