Following the opening of Documenta 14 in Athens, an artist group published an open letter criticizing the exhibition’s silence after a series of evictions of artists and raids of buildings housing refugees in the city.
Image: Riot police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators marching in protest of the raid of a squat in the area of Zografou, Athens, on March 13.
Originally published by Artforum
Artists Against Evictions claim that viewers are not “Learning from Athens”—the title of this year’s exhibition—but are instead only seeing a version of the city that is state-approved. It accuses the mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, of standing by while the government evicted artists from the shared space Villa Zografou, arrested 120 refugees who were squatting in Alkiviadou, and bulldozed refugee homes in Thessaloniki. Kaminis had said that refugees occupying buildings owned by the municipality are “degrading the city.” In response, the signatories declared that this is “not a time of culturally archiving crisis. Now is a time of action not blind consumption.”
Addressed to all Documenta 14 visitors, participants, and cultural workers, the letter states: “The silence of Documenta is not acceptable and only goes further to accommodate Mayor Kaminis, the State, the Church, and the NGOs who stand against us and force thousands into segregated concentration camps, prepped and ready for the very bodies your director says he’s trying to protect. This violent act is dividing the legitimate bodies from the illegitimate ones by state force and Documenta has so far been silent.”
Unofficial refugee housing, known as squats, have cropped up throughout Athens in order to provide shelters that often have far better living conditions than official refugee camps. While the mayor allegedly calls these spaces “ghettos,” Artists Against Evictions considers them to be homes to thousands of displaced people. The group calls for all those participating in and visiting the exhibition to help refugees by supporting housing for migrants in Greece. The group believes that Documenta has a responsibility to address the constant raids on refugee shelters. It also claims that the “Parliament of Bodies,” a series of programming—talks, events, workshops—that preceded the opening of Documenta, had pledged to represent minority voices. “Well, we are those voices, we are inclusive to all genders, we are migrants, we are modern pariahs, we are the dissidents of the regime and we are here.” The letter continues, “We walk with you, we tread the parallel streets, but you don’t see us.”
The full letter is as follows:
To all Documenta 14 Viewers, Participants and Cultural Workers,
We call for your attention, in this immediate moment of “Learning from Athens.”
We are the people who inhabit this city and we are talking to you as our guests.
Your jostling bodies crowd the streets of Athens, your mouths are speaking of our hardship, your feet are pounding the pavements. But this is not enough. Now is a time for carving out a space for all, not a time of culturally archiving crisis. Now is a time of action not blind consumption. We ask you to redirect your limbs into the shadows and the black outs, away from the feast the Mayor of Athens has staged for you.
You say you want to learn from Athens, well first open your eyes to the city and listen to the streets.
One of you laments the discourse of illegitimate bodies. At the same time, by staying silent, he is assisting the eradication of spaces for the thousands of bodies who inhabit this city in autonomous units. These squatted houses are under constant threat; daily we are told we will be evicted through violent means. Not only jeopardizing our basic human needs, but our support networks, spaces of autonomy and unified cultural practices. In these buildings, artists and activists coexist together with thousands of refugees, who have come here from war-torn countries to seek new lives with dignity and freedom.
The silence of Documenta is not acceptable and only goes further to accommodate Mayor Kaminis, the State, the Church and the NGOs who stand against us and force thousands into segregated concentration camps, prepped and ready for the very bodies your director says he’s trying to protect. This violent act is dividing the legitimate bodies from the illegitimate ones by state force and Documenta has so far been silent.
The precursor events of Documenta 14, entitled “The parliament of bodies” spoke of the voices of resistance, transgender voices, the voices of the minority. Well, we are those voices, we are inclusive to all genders, we are migrants, we are modern pariahs, we are the dissidents of the regime and we are here. We walk with you, we tread the parallel streets, but you don’t see us – you have your eyes trained on the blue dotted lines of your Google map. You have been programmed and directed not to see us, to just miss us, reverse and avoid us – our culture has been censored from you. We ask you to recalibrate your devices, we ask you to get lost, to hack your automation, and rewire your cultural viewpoint.
In the run up to all those budget airlines hitting the tarmac, we have confronted some serious battles.
Only three weeks ago, at dawn on the 13th March 2017 the state evicted the social space Villa Zografou. They simultaneously raided Alkiviadou refugee squat and arrested 120 refugees only to release them out into the cold, homeless and without their belongings in the streets at midnight. This is not an isolated incident of oppression. Last summer in Thessaloniki, people faced the violent eviction and bulldozing of refugee homes. Immediately after these barbaric evictions and abuses, mayor Kaminis stated that the occupation of municipality owned buildings by migrants is “degrading the city.” The same mayor stood before you on April 6th, presiding with pomp over the Documenta press conference.
The Greek government today threatens to destroy anyone who seeks grassroots solidarity, self-organization and to build spaces for new beginnings. Over 2000 refugees share these spaces with artists and others, and form communities.
This aggressive cleansing will not stop, and we are under threat of losing all autonomous houses by the summer of 2017. These houses are our culture, our homes, and our structures. The mayor of Athens calls them ghettos but what is one man’s ghetto is thousands of people’s home, and site of social expression and interaction.
WE ARE ASKING YOU TO FIRST SEEK ATHENS AND THEN LEARN FROM US.
BY PARTICIPATING BLINDLY YOU ARE SUPPORTING THE GOLDEN GHETTOISATION OF OUR NEIGHBOURHOODS, THE EVICTION OF OUR COMMUNITIES, AND THE SYSTEMS OF PATRIARCHY THAT STAND ON OUR FINGERS AS WE TRY TO BUILD OUR OWN, SELF-SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURES.
CONSIDER YOUR PARTICIPATION AND ROLE IN EVENTS THAT IMPLICITLY LEND COVER AND LEGITIMACY TO THE MAYOR AND STATE’S ACTIONS.
YOU ARE CONDONING THE WAR ON GRASSROOTS INITIATIVES FOR ALL IF YOU IGNORE OUR CALL.
WE CALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND SOLIDARITY TO:
CLOSE THE CAMPS, NOT THE SQUATS
SOLIDARITY TO ALL SQUATS
AGAINST THE AGREEMENT OF EU-TURKEY SHAME
OPEN THE BORDERS
8th April 2017, Artists Against Evictions