This time last year, we had already witnessed two popular uprisings in Tunisia and Algeria, swiftly followed by an Egyptian revolution and further demands for democracy in the Arab world. European countries began to crumble to an inch of economic collapse. In the midst of peaceful protests, violent repressions and a global financial crisis, we eagerly anticipated the royal wedding of the decade – a fairy tale microcosm far from a harsh reality. To say that 2011 was an eventful year seems like somewhat of an understatement and even in retrospect it’s difficult to digest the profound ways in which the political, social and economic landscape of our world has changed in such a short period of time. The intensity of such developments have highlighted the needs of many communities around the world, but one of the things that resonated the most was how involved young people were, and still are, in this remarkable collective desire for change. Little Wing caught up with Aquamarina Adonopolou, an art curator in Dubai who has closely followed the uprisings. Through her experiences, she makes sense of it all and tells us why she thinks art plays a major role in alleviating hardships and giving people a voice.
Aquamarina was born in Greece but when she was four her parents were expatriated to Zambia. In the thick of her teen years, she returned to Thessaloniki in her homeland and finished high school only to make yet another move to the UK to begin her bachelors in Cultural Studies and Philosophy at Kent University. She decided to take a two year sabbatical after finishing her degree during which she travelled, took a few art classes along the way and interned in prestigious art galleries for experience. It’s easy to tell that she’s a free spirit, somewhat riding the wave as it comes and yet keenly intuitive to opportunities that will open doors for her and allow her to learn more about herself and her passion for art. About her move to Dubai, she says it was purely by chance and the result of a rather impulsive decision. “A friend had just moved here and found out there was a position for an internship at Green Art Gallery where I now work. I packed my bags and 3 days later I was here!” She tells us it's a really exciting time for art in Dubai because it's a culture that is growing exponentially and artists from the region are starting to be critically accepted.
Her profession coupled with having had the opportunity to experience different cultures and peoples has without a doubt made her a hugely perceptive individual and she exudes an incredible sensibility. Reminiscing, she tells about her university years in the UK. “The greatest thing I found about England was the tolerance to be whoever you want to be, people really don’t care and there’s an amazing sense of freedom.” Nevertheless, she says that Greece was the best place to be. “It’s great for young people because you can have so much fun, but at the same time there isn’t the drinking culture that you find in England; it’s a lot more laid back.” But is it the same after the mounting economic turmoil that the country has been facing for some time now?
The situation in Greece began to deteriorate in May 2010 when the government proposed severe austerity measures, including an increase in taxes and cuts in public spending in exchange for a £91 billion bail-out scheme. There were protest and strikes throughout the country, initiated by the Direct Democracy Now! movement, which were generally peaceful to begin with. However, as it escalated and Parliament voted in favour of the European Union bail-out measures, violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police began taking place. Accusations of police brutality were widespread and a deep resentment, social unrest and anti-government sentiment were embedded into the collective consciousness. Young people played a pivotal role in these protests. Aquamarina explains why, “I think initially the protests were more of an outburst rather than anything specific; it was aimed at everything. Young people who literally went out on the streets and spoke out against what we ultimately inherited from our parents’ generation. You’re basically coming out into the adult world already in debt and to top it off with no job to repay the debt that isn’t even yours in the first place. It’s bizarre.”
The news coverage of the 2011 civil unrest was mainly negative, but to be fair, the situation was at a critical point. There was such a prevalent general unhappiness and concern for short-term survival, there was no such thing as the foreseeable future. Violence was beginning to take its toll on an already exasperated community. “Slowly, however, what was wonderful was that this rage started becoming a lot more constructive and creative. Young people were coming up with solutions of their own, and actually doing something on any level that was attainable to them.”In a time of desperation, displacement and uncertainty, people decided to take matters into their own hands and help each other out. “Youth groups started popping up all over the cities organizing food and clothing for the increasing number of homeless people, free plays and concerts in the park, and promoting an alternative form of living.” And indeed, initiatives such as S-Initiative:Katalysis started taking shape in response to difficult times. The creators of Katalysis – a mixture of Greeks from all different ages and backgrounds – wanted to come together to “tap our collective resources - our energy, heritage, family and land-based wisdom, innovative ideas, modern technologies and ancient myths” to create a new future. Seeing the current system disintegrating led them to generate and host gatherings and spaces to move away from paralysis through art-based, conversational marketplaces. Their aims were to connect with, inspire and learn from each other’s artistic, literary and enterprise skills.
“[I think people] found that when money was actually taken out of the equation the possibilities and things you could do were endless,” says Aquamarina, which is why she believes art plays a key role in helping people express and discuss their views, especially in such tense political climates. For her, it seems that people are too used to receiving information through traditional media sources which are selective and often unrepresentative. “How can you completely encapsulate circumstance, war, famine, conflict, even ‘a people’ in such black and white terms? Yet that’s what happens. Art can depict the broader spectrum of things, it can offer its viewers the opportunity to actually have to stop and think for themselves for a change.” She goes on to add, “To come face to face with the possibility of your own prejudices, misconceptions and even limitations” is instrumental.
This is also something she sees at work every day. Currently Aquamarina is working with a young Palestinian artist, Shadi Habib Allah, whose practice is at the crossroads of installation, video art and recently kinetic sculpture. She talks fondly about him, making an interesting observation, “A lot of Palestinian artists get pigeonholed into certain categories because the circumstances through which their works emerge are so controversial. Through the Palestine- Israeli conflict, which has been discussed in the media almost constantly, the public is used to relating to them in purely political terms. "A young Palestinian artist once told me, 'I could be pushing a white block, in a white gallery space and that would be interpreted as me making a political statement about Palestine.' ” But Shadi tries to emancipate himself and his work from this; like she tells us, art is supposed to be a tool to look at things from a broader scope, one without limitations.
So what does this insightful young woman think of the future, of what lies ahead for her country and for the world in general? For her, it’s been amazing watching how the revolutions have unravelled in a global way, “from Egypt to Wall street. It just goes to show that the system that’s been in place really isn’t working.” But she reckons everything that has happened thus far isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. “Revolutions may happen with the purest of intentions but in the end we have to see if the things these people are fighting for are implemented and to what extent.” Aquamarina knows that the dust is yet to settle, and that we must patiently wait to see what has actually changed. For the time being, she will keep on championing art as not only a means of expression, but also as a means to educate and in many ways a saviour in times of need.
Written by: Nicole McLennan and Hana Difrawy