By Pat O’Malley , originally published at Vice.com
Enri Canaj is an Albanian photojournalist who migrated with his family to Athens when he was 11 years old. He’s grown up in and around adversity for most of his life and over the last couple years has been documenting Athens’s transformation from a prosperous city to a melting pot of fascists, antifascists, protests, poverty, and sex trafficiking. Enri’s photographs, which focus on the town’s immigrant population, are a compassionate look into the lives of a population stuck in terrible conditions. He was kind enough to send me these sometimes heartrending photos from his series, titled Shadows in Greece, and I talked to him about his subjects, the troubles his city is going through, and whether there is hope for the future.
VICE: What’s the inspiration behind these photos?
Enri Canaj: Shadows in Greece is a personal project that I started two years ago. The series documents everyday life in Athens in the wake of the tremendous tourist influx during the Olympics in 2004 and subsequent outflow. These are places that were once the city’s busiest districts and now rot in abandonment. People creep through the streets like shadows, heads down, stiff shoulders, sealed lips. While the stock market falls, suicide is on a steady rise. Each photograph depicts a person with a story to tell.
What were you looking for when you started?
At the beginning this project, I was focused only on the smaller economic and social crises that were spreading on a personal level day after day. Things immediately changed, though. Big strikes, demonstrations, angry people protesting, and burning shops and buildings became the norm in Athens. At first, I was photographing without a clear purpose. It was unbelievable even for me what all of us were going through. Then suddenly my photographs took me down another path.
The center of Athens, as I first remember it, was full of life. During the period before the Olympics there was great development. But after they all left, the city started deteriorating and gradually recovered its previous character: the junkies, street merchants, immigrants, and prostitutes. But for me, those people were always there. I saw all of that when I first arrived to Athens as an 11-year-old child.
I began to focus on the immigrants, living in small rented rooms, many of them without much hope. The women prostitute themselves for five euros Hanging around them has become my daily routine. They are sensitive people with a lot of family problems, but they were the ones who were friendly to me when I first arrived in Athens, an immigrant myself. They came to Greece for a better future but found poverty and racism. Some of them suffered physical violence and some even lost their lives. These are the people my project talks about. The images I have selected are powerful to me on a personal level, because I knew the story behind them. When others look at those pictures I want them to feel respect for and dignity of the subjects like I do.
Could you tell me a bit about how you came to Greece as a kid?
I was born in Tirana, Albania, in 1980. My family migrated to Greece in 1991, when the borders opened. I didn’t understand why we were leaving; I thought Albania was beautiful. We sold most of what we owned. We took some old family photos in black and white and a bag with our clothes and got on a bus. All of this seemed confusing and scary to me, until the moment I saw a road full of shining lights, commercial posters, shops, and bars where I would taste my first Coca-Cola.
For the first two months, our home was a cheap hotel room in the center of Athens. We lived on the third floor, but my favorite was the second floor because of the young, beautiful Greek girls who stayed there and worked as prostitutes. They were my first friends. They let me into their rooms and I was fascinated with staring at their faces through the mirror, as they were putting on their makeup. Those girls helped me learn Greek. The images are still very strong in my memory.
Greece was hard on my family. We thought we’d return home quickly, but the years passed and we encountered so many problems, sacrifices, difficulties, and even racism. Now, after 22 years, Greece is the place where I encountered both good and evil. This is my home and my war.
You said these people are living in Athens “without much hope.” Is that what your images depict, or do you feel like there is room for optimism?
As everyone knows, the situation in Greece has become a very difficult one in the last six years. Things are getting progressively worse and people are in very difficult times. They feel lost and without much hope. They are suffering and in my images, I want to show this. I don’t want to hide it.
This is also why I think there is hope. Confronting and seeing the reality, even when it’s hard, makes us find hope. Even while some of us are more lucky, we have to be sensitive and compassionate to the pain of the others. I want to make people stop for a minute so they can feel and think.
More on Greece:
There is an urge among many members of the Greek elites to take political and financial advantage of the crisis. Part of this urge is reflected in the ongoing attempt to re-shape the urban materiality of what used to be the commercial centre of Athens up until 2010. This is the area between Syntagma and Omonoia Square, where most shops closed down after 2010. There, according to the plans, under the label of Re-think Athens, is where a new public urban space is going to be constructed. Along with creating/destroying real estate and political values, this new public space project also aims to restrict protest demonstrations along one of the most crucial parts of the usual marching route: Panepistimiou Street.
But during the crisis Athens is not only rethought, it is remapped too. Remap Athens is an annual art exhibition, which has taken place four times since 2007. Remap Athens #4 took place in September 2013 in public and private urban spaces in the central areas of Keramikos and Metaxourgio. In its own words, Remap “is an international contemporary art platform that has become known for its participatory nature, hosting a unique mix of projects with current and up-and-coming -artists, curators, institutions and galleries- from across the world, all presented within the existing urban context accessible for free to its visitors.” (Words from the Remap Athens website)
In essence, Remap Athens is something between a real estate promotion, an art exhibition and a gentrification force. An abundance of art dealers, but also some individual –established and lesser known– artists exhibit their work in new and old properties owned almost exclusively by the two real estate companies who are the two private sponsors the exhibition. These properties are also for sale – or, to be more precise, they are the only thing that is affirmatively for sale, since not all art work exhibited had price tags.
The grafitti writes: “the passion for hipstery is stronger than glamour”
In such a context the aesthetic of the final result is often grotesque: more often than not there is not much thought put into how artworks will fit the spaces or the urban area itself. Or then again, perhaps the motivations themselves are conflicting: for example, you have some of the artworks expected to attract more visitors located in the real estate that looks like it is mostly promoted by the real estate “friends” of art. This year, such building of preference was a luxurious dwelling with debateable design. And so, a vast art piece stood in the middle of what is obviously a small and low ceiling open-plan kitchen-living room, with the WC’s open door in the background. Fortunately, a sign would warn the visitor that the toilet was out of order. Two students working there for free (“volunteering” they said) were taking care of the art (or was it the house?) The luxurious house (or was it the art?) was also fully guarded by an unfriendly security guard who would stand in a summer suit and sunglasses in front of the gate, staring at visitors with hostility. No smiles returned, and definitely no questions answered. Read the rest of this entry »
Update 10/31/2013 – The two actors arrested have been released, and they will have a hearing on Nov 14. They’re being charged with disturbing the peace, occupying a privately owned space (squatting), and breaking and entering. A lawyer has offered to represent them free of charge; and next week a protest will be organized for Saturday Nov 9th.
10/30/2013 – From the Open Assembly of the free self-managed EMBROS Theater after the arrest of two young actors at EMBROS – Call for group presence and support
On October 30 2013, police officers from the Acropolis police station arrested two young actors who were holding rehearsals at the free self-managed EMBROS Theater. The two arrested actors were led to the prosecutor, where they were charged with the breaching of seals, disrupting domestic peace, and repeatedly occupying a public building. They are currently detained, and will be tried tomorrow 31/10/2013 with a flagrante process.
10/31/2013 – Two rallies (the night of 10/30/2013 and at NOON on 10/31/13) were held in support of arrested actors from free self-managed EMBROS Theater
For the last two years, EMBROS has been functioning as a non-commodified cultural and social space in the sensitive area of Psyrri, in the center of Athens. The action of today’s arrest is undeniably part of a bigger scheme of a political wipe-out of “lawlessness”, in other words of the freedom of expression, of social solidarity, of self-management and the creation of culture outside the norms of the vulgar market. The attack on EMBROS, a few days after the invasion of social infirmaries, and perhaps a few days before the threatened raid of the occupied ERT public television-radio station, leaves no doubt about the intentions of a government which appears determined to “redeem itself” of all kinds of social solidarity, after having already dismantled state structures.
The Open Assembly of the free self-managed EMBROS Theater moves forward tonight with a night protest, marching together from EMBROS to the Acropolis Police Station, and invites you tomorrow, Thursday October 31 2013, at 12pm noon to the flagrante process “Aftoforo Monomeles Plimmeliodikio Scholis Evelpidon” (Building 2) to show support for the arrested and resistance towards authoritarianism of power.
EMBROS continues its program as scheduled and invites you to actively take part and participate!
:: 24hour EMERGENCY ROOM ::
Embros will be open for 24hours with non-stop activities that respond to the emergent(cy) situation of Embros and Greece. A 24hour programme with ephemeral performances, food, spontaneous statements, organised discussions, participatory actions, predictions for music as well as overnight stay and sleeping in the space….
Join us to celebrate our endlessly ephemeral condition!
‘On duty’: From Friday 4 October (7 p.m.) to Saturday 5th October
Embros Theatre: Riga Palamidi 2, Psyrri
Organised/Curated by Kolektiva Omonia
:: FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER ::
7:00 P.M. # Walls [Installation "Preview from the permanent collection of Tsakonas & Alexandridis foundation" by Giorgos Alexandridis and Pavlos Tsakonas]
7:00-9:00 # For Sale [performance/installation by Εleni Kalara]
9:00-9:30 # Οrthopedics [Dance performance by Kostas Tsioukas]
9:30-10:00 # Οrthopedics [Dance Performance by Mariela Nestora]
10:00-11:00 # Pharmacy [performance video/sound by Alexandros Mistriotis and Stathis Xrysidis]
11:00-12:00 # Εmergencies [performances / statements with open participation. Participants: N. Anastasopoulos, K.Theodorou, X.Thomopoulou, D. Kenos, X. Katsari, V. Kyriakoulakou, S. Mousouli, E. Kalara, T. Skanatovits, T, Tsalapatis and others]
12:00-02:00 # Open Line [one to one encounters including phychotherapy, fortune telling, relationship advice, work support, memorial service, etc Participants: Vassiliki Dimou, Effi Gianopoulou, Dimitris Kenos, Tonia Katerini, Eleni Kalara, Viky Kyriakoulakou, Theano Polyzogopoulou, Syrakos Ioannis Kesen, Pavlina Marfin, Danae Sioziou]
02.00 # Dream Meal [Late night Snack. Menu: Boiled wheat soup with feta cheese and pasta with chicken sauce]
03.00 # Sleep-in [Bring a sleeping bag and come to sleep together on Embros stage]
# Sleep theraphy [Fairytales splatter by Georgia Karydi and contrabass by Alekos Vasilakos]
:: SATURDAY 5 ΟCTOBER ::
MORNING SESSION : BREAD
10:00-11:00 # Dreamtherapy [Organised by Mariela Nestora]
11.00-1.00 # Coffee and phonecalls [We serve hot coffee, freshly baked bread, marmelade and crepes while Angleos Kuriou is on a music call with Acte Vide]
1:00 # Reception ['Maze' installation by Melina Markaki]
3.00-4.00 # First Aid [workshops, tests]
AFTERNOON SESSION: EDUCATION
4:00 # Tea and Sympathy [Tea, crispbread from Psyrri, raisins and local soft cheese]
4:00-4:30 # Alternative Therapies ['From clown army to human chains' Examples of civic disobidience and non-violent resistance from Greece and abroad] Presenter: Maria Peteinaki
4:30-5:00 # Unit 1-1-4 [Alternative structures in the educational system] Participants: Tutorpool, Georgia Valomenou
5:00-8:00 # Antibodies: Forms of radical action for a society in crisis [Round table discussion. Participants: Fotini Vaki, Vassilis Xydias, Aris Kalantidis, Christoforos Kasdaglis, Apostolos Kapsalis, Dimitris Papanikolaou, Dimitri Sevastaki. Chair: Effi Gianopoulou]
EVENING SESSION: FREEDOM
8:15-8:45 # Pharmacy [«The broken diary of Lilly Crag’ performance by Katerina Iliopoulou and Yiannis Isidorou]
9:00-9:30 # Physiotherapy [«On duty till 9» performance]
9:30-10:00 # Radiology [Performance by Styliano Tzirita]
10:00 # Exit [DJ set: Thalia Ioannidou] PARTY
# Dedications and Stories
SHADOWS IN GREECE
Albanian photographer Enri Canaj captures the deteriorating status of the city he was raised in, Athens, years after the Olympic games of 2004. The series Shadows in Greece encompasses the everyday life Canaj knew, after the tremendous touristic developments during the Olympic Games, Athens’ decay allowed it to recover its previous state, consisting of junkies, street-merchants and prostitutes. He describes the city to be “fading from sight entirely. Some people have abandoned it due to the crisis. Many shops and hotels have shut down, the centre is now almost deserted. People fear they will get ripped-off, they no longer feel like going out and wandering about like before. They fear seeing the poverty, the destitution, the drug-users who care only about where their hit is coming from, and the women selling themselves for sex.”
Yet for Canaj, this was life, the Athens he found when he first arrived as a 9-year old child, the city he grew up in. Shadows in Greece expresses the ironic entrapment of the locals into their own lives, and their hope for change. Each photograph depicts a story and within it, each person has one to tell. This series is Canaj’s personal story of Athens, of what is left behind and everything that once made it the vibrant city it was. “When others look at my pictures of these people I want them to respect their spirit to survive and see their dignity, as I do.”
This photoblog is the first stage of a series of projects by The Other Acropolis Collective. We have a background in archaeology, anthropology, or media studies, and we all share a desire to intervene critically in the processes that often result in monolithic and exclusivist archaeological and heritage materialities in the present. Our aim is to produce a range of alternative media interventions which will take the iconic site of the Athenian Acropolis as their centre, their point of departure, or their target (in all senses of the word). This project is a follow-up from a number of other, more conventional academic projects, to do with issues such as the role of the Acropolis in nationalist and colonialist discourses and practices, the social, political, and sensual lives of its ruins, the ways by which the transformative power of archaeological and photographic apparatuses have produced and endlessly reproduced the site/sight of the Acropolis, the tourist experience of the site, and so on (see bibliography for some of these projects).
This project can be seen as the attempt to undermine the monolithic discourse on the Acropolis as an exclusively classical site, by bringing into the fore its other lives, from prehistory to the present (the Mycenaean, the Medieval, the Ottoman, the Muslim, the Christian, the contemporary…), especially through their material traces that still survive, despite the extensive processes of archaeological, but also photographic purification. We draw our inspiration from two concepts: the first is multi-temporality, and the second, multi-sensoriality. We believe that the site and the space around it constitute a unique locale which can re-activate different times, evoke different cultures, and reconnect with diverse and fluid identities. At the same time, we hope to encourage a fully embodied, multi-sensory appreciation and engagement with the materiality of the site, beyond the stereotypical, tourist gaze, or the national pilgrimage. We also favour the re-incorporation of this locale into the fabric of daily life, especially for the people who live around it. We hope that the thoughts and the material generated here will lead to other projects and interventions, some on site, some printed, some virtual, with more immediate a printed, portable alternative tourist guide forThe Other Acropolis. We invite you to post your comment, share your thoughts, and if you are an artist or a researcher already working on a similar project, get in touch with us.
Protest called to support self-managed artistic space in Psyri
Since it came under occupation in November 2011 by an artists collective and local residents, the Embros theatre has hosted hundreds of performances and events
A theatre in use (Photo: Embros theatre)A group behind a squatted theatre project in central Athens has claimed that officials from the state privatisation agency, accompanied by a police escort, sealed the building early on Monday morning.
The Embros theatre project said that the padlocks were placed on the building at 10am.
“Why has Taiped chosen this moment to seal the only free cultural space in this ‘difficult’ area of the city centre?” a statement from the group read, adding that the property, located at Riga Papamidou 2 in Psyri, is not listed anywhere on Taiped’s website as being one of the hundreds of state properties for sale.
In a statement issued late on Monday, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (Taiped), as the privatisation agency is officially known, all but confirmed that it had padlocked the building, which it said it now owned: “This public property, which has come under the full ownership of Taiped, was occupied by the ‘Mavilis Theatrical Movement’ and used without the permission of Etad [the Public Properties Company], which is the administrator of the property.”
“Taiped’s aim is to utilise the property through legal procedures to ensure the public interest” in a way that “will contribute to the emergence of historical value and the enhancement of the area”.
In November 2011, an artists group called the Mavili collective and local residents occupied the building, which had stood derelict for five years, with the aim of reactivating the space and using an alternative model of collective management and new contemporary forms of creative work.
Hundreds of performances have been held there since.
Those behind the project see it as a major bulwark against the gentrication of the area, which has been transformed in the last decade by the arrival of bars and restaurants.
Dating from the 1930s, the building housed for decades the printing press of the Embros newspaper. The property was declared a protected monument in 1989 and from 1988 to 2007 was home to two different theatre groups.
In its present form, the theatre is run by a weekly assembly, at which anyone who believes the building should remain in public hands can participate.
Police have tried on two occasions to remove the present occupants.
* A public meeting has been called for 7pm on Tuesday at nearby Ayion Anagyron square to protest Taiped’s takeover of the property.
In honor of International Peace Day, we invite Athenians to join us in act of peace and solidarity pasting white butterflies between Akademias and Solonos Street by the cultural department of the Municipality. The city of Athens has embraced the project and the Philarmonical Orchestra will join s during the pasting.
Strategic Partner in London: Westminster Law and Theory Centre