Navigating at the borders of documentary and fiction, this long-term work invites to a new reading of Lesbos’s contemporary issues, by bringing together traces of the past, mythology and migration’s collective memory.
In 2015, Lesbos became the centre of Europe’s largest population movement since the Second World War. However this isn’t an unprecedented event in this Greek island’s turbulent history. Since antiquity, waves of migration have followed one another on this piece of land at the crossroads of the worlds, a passage between East and West. Situated only 12 kilometers from the Turkish coast, the island still bears the traces of the Great Catastrophe of 1922. Following Greece’s defeat against the young Turkish Republic of Mustafa Kemal, more than a million Orthodox Greeks from Asia Minor were deported to the other shore, 45,000 of whom landed in Lesbos in the greatest deprivation. Almost a century later, it was their descendants who lended their assistance to modern-day refugees, to the extent that the island’s inhabitants were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
It’s from this starting point that Agathe Kalfas and Mathias Benguigui carried out, between 2016 and 2020, Asphodel Songs, a four-handed work mixing text and images, which seeks to bring a new perspective to this highly mediatised territory. They examine the traces left in the landscape, meet its populations, collect real or imaginary stories, in order to put into perspective the different strata of migration on the island. During their stay, events succeed one another and tensions rise: the refugees’ waiting is endless, months or even years; economic difficulties and a feeling of abandonment take hold of the Greek population. Yesterday’s and today’s exiles observe one another, but the dialogue is broken.
Has Lesbos become a mirror of the «Field of Asphodel», that mythological place in the underworld where souls who have committed neither crimes nor virtuous deeds, remain aimlessly and await forever?