For the past six years, Vassilis Perros’ art has been revolving around movement and travel, symbolized by the ‘suitcase’. Looking at his art, I immediately associated it with migration and displacement. So we got to talking about it as I wondered what drove him to engage with this symbol over and over again. Some of his answers were quite revealing and interesting. The conversation was held in Athens, in Greek. This is a liberal transcription of our chat.
SK: Was there an emotional aspect to your decision to produce this kind of art?
VP: The object of the suitcase itself had an aesthetic value for me, especially old suitcases made out of leather or paper. I tried to imagine stories sad or happy that the object could tell us. If only the suitcase could speak!
The suitcase did not only symbolize migration in the sense that today’s crisis is making us think about movement. It also symbolized vacations, discovery, travel, and entertainment. I thought about the experiences and the memories of trips which we bring back and are so much more important than purchases we make along the way. Ironically, perhaps, I too had spent the past few years, going back and forth to rural Karditsa in Central Greece, where I was an art teacher in a public school never knowing each year in which school or exact region I would be appointed to teach in. In a way, I too was an economic migrant within my own country. I also thought of the suitcase as home. Home is where your set down the suitcase. You don’t really even need a home. You pick up the suitcase and go!
One story that moved Vassilis and made him think about how his work impacts different people was the following: A collector bought one of his works and hung it in the living room. He and his family admired the artwork and were happy with their purchase. Their housekeeper went to clean the living room and stood in front of the suitcase and began to weep. For her it had a different meaning as she was a migrant to Greece.
Vassilis’ interest in movement, travel, displacement has also originated from the fact that his family has roots in Asia Minor. They became refugees to Greece after the Turks violently pushed out the Greek diaspora from Smyrna and other cities in 1923. This voyage was marked by fire, death and pain in their memory.
Interesting to think about how Greeks have been refugees, migrants (economic and political), as well as avid travelers. At different times and for different reasons, the suitcase has symbolized a variety of narratives and frames molding their collective identity.
Vassilis has participated in over 20 group exhibitions in Greece and abroad and in 3 personal exhibitions. He is now taking the suitcase to the Biennale in Italy. He is now begun exploring the boat as an object. The transition wasn’t directly linked to the current crisis (the image of sinking boats and orange lifevests are now burned in our collective memory as a nation) but because he thought of it initially as the means of transport. Let’s see where that “voyage” takes him. (to be continued)
Images used with the permission and courtesy of the artist.