Suprised Athenians lift their head and read messages on the city’s poles and bus stops. An imaginative international project with 39 quotes sparks a dialogue: What would you change in your life?
One of the posters was outside a deserted street gallery way past its glory days – “Stoa Arsaki”. While waiting for the light to turn green, I noticed the white poster on a pole. “I wish I had an oven to bake and share bread every day”, it wrote. I noticed it but didn’t give much attention to it, moved on. A little bit further down, another one: “We will have to leave capitalism behind”. And in one of Central Athens main roads – Vasilissis Sofias – was “Just for fun, I would change white people to black and black people to white”.
The city was suddenly sending messages to passers-by. The dialogue started on May 16th, and the social media were wondering what was going on. 39 quotes, 39 wishes of refugees and immigrants became a message, a prayer through the poster-project of the Onassis Cultural Centre and the Onassis Foundation, titled “And For The Rest (Athens)“. The participants, children and adults applying for asylum, answered the questions that Tim Etchells – director and founder of the long-standing “Forced Entertainment” group in England. The questions were along the lines of “What would you change in the world, your life, yourself, a country, a city, your neighbourhood or, even, in the view from your window? And what is needed for these changes to take place?”
Hence, 2500 posters with these messages, with the wishes written in English and Greek were spread across the city.
The project, which took place through the “Fast Forward Festival 3“, was in discussion with the city, with open public places, until the 29th May. It was meant to start a process which would cause different reactions: awkwardness, euphoria, concern, puzzlement, surprise. It has been done before in other cities and when it came to Athens it was linked to immigration, at a time when cohabitation causes new facts and needs.
Etchells himself explains that the thought behind the project is for the voices of those living in the city but with no official residence status to be heard – because otherwise, they are in a constant “mute” status. In some countries they are refugees, in other prisoners, underage, people who are in hospitals for psychological illnesses, homeless people. During the interviews, Etchells and his team, in each city, call the participants to speak about all that they would change to society. “Sometimes it’s something small, others it links with the community they live in, others it affects the wider communal environment”, he explains.
Thus, at a time where we are used to seeing advertisement posters, or posters calling for strikes, these were, in the historic centre of Athens, replaced by the voices of those who are usually excluded from public discussions. With sentences that seem simplistic, “I would create round houses made of bricks, wood and cement”, to existential, “I want my life to be worth something”, to politically correct, “Human rights should be above the Law”.
While the project was developped in Athens after Brussels and Basel, Etchells states fascinated by the fact that in the Athens interviews, people not only stated what they would change, but they also commented on their life, their experiences in Athens. It is noted that the interviewees were originally from the following countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Poland, Albania, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Russia, Irak and Ukraine.
It would also be worth mentioning that there were some negative reactions, with questions such as “do they have a permit for these posters? Isn’t it illegal to post things on poles?”
The project members replied with: this project was developed with the full cooperation of the Athens Municipality, and the posters will be taken down as soon as the project ends.
Read below the 39 quotes, or wishes, as written on the white posters. If you were in Athens at the time, did you see any?
- We need to stop being so afrad of others
- I was born and raised in war
- Look at what can change, what needs to be done
- You should hope, and believe in hope
- For flowers to take over
- Just for fun, I would change white people to black and black people to white
- For us to look at eachother with eyes that see people’s value
- We will have to leave capitalism behind
- I wish I had all necessary papers
- To live like people live
- I wish people had kind hearts. People’s hearts are too harsh
- I wish I could wander aimlessly; go for a stroll with my hands in my pockets or sit for a beer or coffee; start a converstion with strangers
- I wish all road were rivers, so we would swim everywhere and boats would replace cars
- I wish things were simpler
- I cannot think of something apart from wanting a job and some money. It is impossible to think that I would want anything else
- We cannot change the world, but in the town square there are children – from Greece, Albania, Bangladesh, Pakistan, from everywhere – and they can change the world
- I feel rich – I have two homes, Greece and Syria. But one of them is dying and the second is also struggling. The war that you have here is of another kind
- Fewer older people, less sadness
- The only thing I want is a dog – that is my dream
- My dream is to become like Albert Einstein
- I miss my tent and the fire burning outside. I miss walking barefoot on my village’s earth. I miss being there and speaking my language every day
- To be free and walk the planet, wherever you want, with no restrictions – that would be a great joy
- I want the city to become a big theme park with ferris wheels
- I wish distances were smaller so we wouldn’t be in so much of a rush
- Human rights should be above the Law
- I wish I could see the sea from my window and know that my family is near
- I would create round houses made of bricks, wood and cement
- I wish I had an oven to bake and share bread every day
- I have nothing here, not even papers
- I wish people said “Good morning” when they saw me walking out the house, or smile. I have been living in this neighbourhood for seven years and no one has ever said “Good morning”
- I am afraid of loneliness
- Something will have to change. Something will have to happen
- Before I came here, I didn’t even know there was a country called Greece
- I want to be the same as you, I want to be equal to you, even if you are Greeks and I am from somewhere else
- I will stay here until the end
- I want my life to be worth something
- I have no one to take care of me, so I take care of myself
- I want my child to have the possibility to go to school. I don’t mind if it is Greek or Arabic school, as long as it is education
- We need to look people in the eye. To speak to one another