Vilelmini Andrioti | Bordello of Borders

Talk at the ACTS OF ENGAGEMENT conference, September 18, 2016,  at the Bagkeion.

"I am very honored to be here, I would like to thank James Simbouras Washington, for his invitation and solidarity.

My name is Vilelmini Androti and I am a Greek political choreographer and sociologist. I hope to offer you my experience and my thoughts as I consider my body as a vehicle to activism. As an artist based in Athens in the heart of the economic crisis, I witness and experience vulnerabilities exposed by structures of economic inequality, which has deeply affected my work as an artist. Throughout my work I question the boundaries of fragility, vulnerability and precariousness. I have been using my craft and dance theatre group Wanderers to propose an understanding of vulnerability .

Some issues that I explore are :

How much space do we have; to think, to function. Who determines the time and space and what about change? To me the use of space will empower the awareness of spectators and will bring positive change by motivating them to be involved in the political arena. I would like to see the body not only as bones and flesh but rather as an engine of free spirit which is socially and politically important for the benefit of the community.

While I was practicing my art I found myself in the middle of the refugee crisis starting in the summer of 2015. Because the government couldn’t react quickly enough to the huge wave of human tragedy, volunteers and activists filled the void. I was sympathetic to this mass displacement of people because my family lost everything overnight in 1922, escaping Asia Minor as victims of war and became refugees.

I was a co-founder of the initiative “Refugees Welcome to Piraeus”

I established our Facebook page with 9,500 members and was continually updating the site to coordinate all refugee activities: arrange art, educational and cultural activities and events, record topics of weekly meetings and distribute to the whole group, hosting vulnerable families in my home, transport of patients to hospitals.

In trying to get international support for refugees in Greece I directed and coordinated the “Open Border Parade”. This project was an open call for independent international artists to support refugees and demonstrate solidarity. We protested in a peaceful way on the border with FYROM, at Eidomeni. We continued our non-violent demonstration with “Safe Passage”, with Greek artists participating in a 12 hour parade around Athens.

At Easter time Johan Sandig and Sasha Walls came to present their performance “Human Requiem” in Greece. This is when Johan decided to invite 200 refugees on stage to honoure them.

Involving refugees in a performance inspired me to bring them on stage one more time as performers. Their horror stories gave me the idea to proceed with my latest project, “No Mirror”, in which refugees show their aesthetical ideals: henna painting, hijab use, costumes fabricated from material left in the camps. Here I want to contrast the No Mirror project with the work of German artist, Leni Riefenstahl’s use of aesthetics. She emphasized an African tribe’s aesthetics photographing and highlighting their culture for her own benefit. Whereas in No Mirror we highlight their aesthetics but also gave them a voice to tell their stories. Also, the money from the tickets sales, have been given to the refugee performers.

As I was rehearsing and announced the No Mirror project strange things started happening. I had my fb hacked, nobody could reach me, supplies were held up at the port, the far right political party Golden Dawn, started posting threats on the site, the police stopped my car and harassed me while I was taking refugees from the camp to my house in order to rehearse. We started to receive dubious messages regarding sensitive medical information. We were scared about the authenticity and the purpose of such messages because we have heard about the exploitation of refugees, organ harvesting and even children being sold.

Because of all these problems we announced an ethical code for volunteers. At that time I felt really vulnerable and resigned as an administrator from the movement I started on the internet. I removed myself from duties in the camp but still working on No Mirror. I felt in danger like the refugees feel. I became powerless and precarious And indeed I am , because of my gender, epilepsy condition, being a single mother of 2 young children, unemployed. Thus, I am sensitized to refugees. I faced the nexus of paternalistic control.

For me this is no longer theory but reality. Judith Butler the American philosopher theorizes about vulnerability, resistance and precariousness. From my point of view superiority produces conflicts. Precarity leads to violence. Domination gives the idea of the savior and the saved. Charity and solidarity do not dismantle the inequality mechanisms of war which in turn reinforce the refugee crisis. Victims become material for exploitation, continuing the vicious cycle. The government sells the wrapping of volunteerism in order to challenge the limits of humanity and fill the void of the lack of policy. So they sensitize its citizens in this way and they manipulate unemployed people and volunteers.

After 10 months of unpaid service, I became the source, the conduit to empathy, resilience, medical care, food, education, and culture. As a volunteer I was pushed to the verge of exhaustion and felt like a guinea pig. I was a permanent fixture in the port fighting for those without a voice.

Ι would like you to support us regarding the issue of refugee children exploitation, in order for them and us as well to overcome precarity. I would like to pursue education and rights for refugees. So far, refugee children are at risk of abuse, child marriage- teenage pregnancy, child labor-dangerous work, sexual and gender based violence, forced recruitment, and inappropriate services.

Thank you very much it was a pleasure to be here and share my experience and thoughts. "