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The Personal & Political Meet in an Exhibition on the Refugee Crisis

'A World Not Ours' features work from artists who have experience trauma and exodus.
Ninar Esber, The Blind Lighthouse, 2016. Living sculpture / performance (duration approx. 2 hours). Commissioned by the Schwarz Foundation. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Imane Farès, Paris.

Everything from living sculpture to video ad photography give a nuanced look at the refugee crisis in A World Not Ours, a new exhibition at Art Space Pythagorion in Greece. By bringing together a veritable roster of artists hailing from spaces that have experienced war and trauma, the show proves that art can serve as an important lens through which to consider current issues.

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Agia Marina / Saint Marina, 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Single channel video, colour, sound, 8’

As the exhibition’s official website explains, A World Not Ours takes place in Samos, close to the Turkish coast, because it “has been at the heart of the refugee crisis that began in 2015.” The exhibition title comes from a film directed by Mahdi Fleifel, which in turn took its name from a book by Ghassan Kanafani.

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Ode to Joy, 2014. Installation with cashmere wool, paper. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Panos Kokkinias.

Naturally, a show that takes on such a relevant and painful event requires careful consideration. Curator Katerina Gregos was invited by the Schwarz Foundation to submit a proposal for an exhibition in the space. Gregos often works with issues of human rights and crisis and felt it was impossible to stage any other kind of show given the location of the space.

“The refugee crisis has been and still is an unremitting reality on the island, and a pressing, unresolved issue for the whole of Europe. It is thus a critical issue which is thus both local, but also European and global,” Gregos tells The Creators Project.


Ninar Esber, Torso II, 2016. Laser cut metal, electrostatic paint. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Imane Farès, Paris.

A World Not Ours features work from Tania Boukal, Yannis Behrakis, Giorgos Moutafis, Juice Rap News, and more.

In Gregos’ view, artists have a “a different way of looking into socio- and geopolitical catastrophes.” Their viewpoints can offer the general public a momentary relief from seeing certain events through the lens of the media or the jargon of politicians. Gregos thinks artists can make the issues more complex than just issues with answers that seem black and white.

“Artists not only reveal the predicament, but also point out the myriad subjectivities that get lost in the mainstream narratives,” writes Gregos. “They steer clear of polarising notions of ‘them’ and ‘us,’ make us aware of our own predispositions, biases, preconceptions and hopefully guide us to become more open-minded, and less self-contained and secluded. They frequently offer a wider perspective and greater criticality, and show contemporary issues under a different, more considered and nuanced light.”


Ninar Esber’s The Blind Lighthouse, for example, considers the role of the lighthouse and what happens when its position becomes challenged. The lighthouse stands for a symbol of protection but in this instance, the lighthouse seems to call out even while it refuses any security. The lighthouse also implies a separation, a division between someone on one shore trying to get to another place.


Yannis Behrakis, The Persecuted (Kos, Lesbos, Idomeni, Piraeus, 2015). Slide projection, 9’ and archival images. Courtesy of Yannis Behrakis/Reuters. Installation photo: Panos Kokkinias.

Many of the pieces within the show offer a range of intepretations.

“I think it is important to mention the fact that the group of artists, photographers, filmmakers and activists participating in the exhibition are not people who woke up to the refugee crisis in 2015,” says Gregos. “They are people who have had a long-standing engagement with the issue and their work is the result of in-depth, long-term research (often decades-long), on-the-ground involvement and first-hand experience.”

Because of this, she sees their viewpoint as “more empirical, less epidermic, and more knowledgeable.” Art often offers a lense to approach issues from both a personal and political viewpoint—and proves especially powerful when these two meet in the middle.

A World Not Ours is on view untl October 15. Click here to learn more about the show.


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