The following interpretations of Kostis Velonis's art work come from a unique project at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST) in 2017. Face Forward …into my home was an interactive art project focused on the stories of people who have been forced to leave their homelands and were rebuilding their life in Greece. It included storytelling workshops inspired by a selection of contemporary artworks from the collection of EMST, the photo shooting of portraits, and a photography exhibition about and with refugees and asylum-seekers, then living in the greater Athens area. Link
Amin, Student / Iran
The Swedish Flying Carpet, by Kostis Velonis, reminded me of the carpets made in Iran and exported to different countries. In Turkey there is a factory that makes carpets like these and exports them to other countries. Most of the workers there are Iranians. These carpets have motifs from nature, flowers and various plants. When you sit on them, you feel calm and peaceful.
The nature motifs brought Nowruz to mind, which we celebrate back in Iran. On the first day of spring, March 21, we celebrate the change of year. Nowruz is a feast for the coming of the New Year. “Zainab, do you in Afghanistan have the same feast?” During Nowruz, we celebrate the New Year for 13 days, as follows: the whole family goes out to the countryside and spends time out in the open air. Some families set their tents up outside and spend the nights there and it’s beautiful. Last year I didn’t celebrate Nowruz. I promise you, though, that when I get a residence permit, I’ll take you all to Iran, set up a tent out in nature and celebrate.
Mahdi, Student / Iran
One of the works we saw at the Museum which made a big impression on me was the Swedish Flying Carpet by Kostis Velonis. Its waves reminded me of a seagull, flying to leave a country where it’s cold to go to one where it is warm. Just like I wanted to leave my country. That’s what I kept saying—I want to leave—because I didn’t like the situation there. I wasn’t safe. And in the end, I managed to get away.
Carlos, 25 years old / Syria
Kostis Velonis’ Swedish Flying Carpet talks about the encounter between different cultures. My own sense is that communication and the exchange of ideas and elements of culture can foster progress and cultural development. We just need to appreciate and not dismiss the culture and history that each nation has contributed. What surely destroys a culture is war. As a young person, I want the situation in my country to improve so that I can have hope for my future there. However, the absence of freedom in Syria has led thousands of young persons like me to seek their fortune elsewhere in another country, where they face an uncertain future.
All this is happening in a country with two of the most ancient cities in the world, Aleppo and Damascus. And yet, one dark moment in its modern history was enough to destroy a centuries-old culture and the lives of thousands of people. It’s not only that I can’t study in my country, or that I’d be poor and hungry. The war has destroyed everything. It’s why I left and I am here today, trying to make a new start in my life. I want to study and work in a country in the EU and get exposed to elements of European culture, but I also want to contribute in turn with elements of my own culture. I hope I’ll be given the chance to show who I really am and what I can do, and what I can contribute.
Αzizi, 32 years old / Afghanistan
At the Museum we saw an artwork that was called Swedish Flying Carpet, which I thought represented the marriage of two civilizations, Asian and European. We saw another artwork with a loom. I grew up in a village in Afghanistan and I used to see how it was used in the old days. I remember our mothers and grandmothers sitting at the loom, weaving. The situation in the country was better back then because things were safe, and I have good memories of those days. But now all that’s just a memory because sadly, because of the war, the situation in Afghanistan has completely changed.
It’s really hard to be young and not able to find a safe place to live in your country. I realize that nowadays a lot of people from other countries and not just Afghanistan are facing the same problem. But bear in mind, I was two years old when the war started in my country and as I grew up, I saw one war after another break out and the country reduced to rubble. It’s painful to see the civilian population suffering, on the one hand, and on the other, the bombs that keep falling. We used to hope that the war would end one day, but that never happened. That’s why we were forced to leave and become refugees and how we wound up here.
Reem, 23 years old / Syria
The work of Kostis Velonis consists of a carpet made of wood. I find it odd that it’s made from this material. In Syria we make carpets out of wool. Some are so fine while others are so thick that your feet sink inside them so much that you can’t even see them. Also, the carpet made by Velonis looks like a flying one. I remember when I was young, my mother telling me the story of a flying carpet. It’s probably an Arabian tale that you may not know.
There was once a woman who had three daughters. Maybe my mother told this story because she had three girls too. One of the daughters had an active imagination and was always looking for curious and wondrous, unrealistic things. One day, leaving home to go for a walk, she saw a carpet. She wondered what this carpet was. She approached it, stepped on it, and it began to fly. The flying carpet transported her to another world, to a world of fantasy, where everything was much bigger than her: the table, the glass, the apple, everything, all that existed was all huge! Soon after, a huge man appeared and asked her: “What are you doing here?” At first she was very scared, but then she started talking to him. The man told her that she could make three wishes and that he would grant l them for her. The girl replied that she only had one wish: she wanted to have wings to fly and, after travelling and discovering the entire world, to return home. The man did indeed fulfil her wish. So after she travelled and discovered the entire world, she returned home, to her mother. But her mother, seeing her like that, with the wings, did not recognise her. She had changed. At that point, the girl felt distress and started to cry. In the end, she decided to leave again and travel forever.
Perhaps, the girl in the story is me.
Zacharia, 46 years old / Syria
I also find the work of Kostis Velonis very interesting. It’s an imaginary carpet, different and astonishing, because you’d expect it to be made of wool, but instead it’s made of wood. I find it amazing how the intersection of cultures is illustrated in this work. Just like I love listening to a Greek song that has been translated into Arabic and vice versa. After all, art is an international language. It teaches respect among different cultures. It is a beautiful thing sitting here together around this table, each one from a different country, exchanging opinions. There is so much that we can learn from one another.