Marina Tsekou

Bia Davou, Sails, 1981 – 1982. Installation. Fabric, ink. Variable dimensions. Donated by Zafos Xagoraris, 2002. National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST). Copyright EMST, Inv. No. 259-260/02


The following interpretations of Bia Davou'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



Ali, 40 years old / Syria

When I was informed about the Museum programme, I was not sure if I wanted to participate. I had never been in a museum and had never visited an exhibition. But something made me go to the first meetings and then to take the decision to take part. So, I realized that there is something new to do, which is interesting. I was able to meet new people and learn new things. With our discussions, the ideas and experiences shared by the group, my mind was cleared from concerns. I was given the opportunity to think of something different and perhaps to change the way I see things.

It was interesting we all saw the works in our own way. For example, looking at the work of Bia Davou, Sails, I thought that the map of Syria looks like this installation. In Davou’s work, each sail occupies its own special place; it has its own limits as well as its own colour. Something similar happens in Syria map, which is divided into Governorates and Districts; each Governorate and each District is marked on the map with its own colour and its own borders. Before the war, in Syria, Christians and Muslims used to live harmoniously. In my neighbourhood there was a church and a mosque. I had Christian neighbours and there was no problem between us. One family participated in the feast and mourning of the other. In this area, since ancient times, different religions and different cultures have coexisted. What is happening today has not been initiated by the people. I do not believe that the cause of the war is religion.


Amin, Student / Iran

From the artworks we saw at the Museum, what I didn’t like was Sails, by Bia Davou. It confused me and upset me. Different colours and different directions of sails reminded me of the reality in my country today. Sails are like the different groups in Iran, who, because of their differences are in constant conflict.


Carlos, 25 years old / Syria

In Bia Davou’s work I could see that each of the sails is a different colour and faces a different direction. It made me feel tense and confused, because it brought to mind what’s going on in my country, with the various factions and their differences, who are in conflict and fighting amongst themselves. Just the opposite happens when we meet in the hall at the Museum; we’re all different and think differently, but we realize we respect each other’s opinion and, what’s more, we share the same feelings. So, while the work expresses conflict—brought on by ethnic, racial, economic or other causes—we’re sending out here a different kind of message for the present and the future: even though we’re different, we have things in common that unite us and we respect one another. That’s why I’m really happy to be part of this group. An artist is able to “meet” other people, metaphorically speaking, through the ideas his or her work conveys. I studied acting for a year in Syria and then philosophy for another. I prefer acting because it’s a form of art. With art, your voice can reach a lot of people in many different countries. You can critically analyse social issues and make a positive contribution to solving problems in society.


When there’s mutual respect, understanding and real communication among the members of a society, then that society can make progress. Each person fulfils their obligations and can exercise their rights. That’s equality. Unfortunately, in my country, as in many other countries, that’s not the case. Because of a lack of education—that’s how I see it—[Syrian] society is moving backwards, and we’re suffering a great deal because of this. A lot of restrictions have been introduced, and as a result, people have become stuck in the way they think. Take, for example, the position of women. When the crisis broke out in Syria, I was still a teenager. Until then, I’d had the idea that a woman could be a doctor, a teacher, a wife, a musician, a gymnast—whatever she chose to be—just as a man could. Actually, if you look back in time, you’ll see that throughout the centuries there have been very important women in the country’s history. Unfortunately, restrictions have been placed on what a woman can do with her life, the skills and talents she might have in a particular area aren’t recognized, and in general she’s not considered equal to a man.


John, Student / Zimbabwe

…the most inspiring work for me was Sails by Bia Davou. In this work, sails are like people with different opinions about life, of different origins, religion etc., having different orientations, probably due to different goals. But, still, all the sails are fixed on the same base, just like humans who share many common traits. I am really impressed by the story of Odysseus, which this work made me think of, and I’d like to learn more about his adventures and his wife, Penelope, who was waiting for him back home. As soon as I returned home, I thought of myself and my girlfriend, who is far away. With these thoughts, I wrote this poem to her:



I’m out for greener pastures

But do not put our love past us

Even though I am away right now

I feel your proximity in my heart

My love has reached its intensity

How art thou my princess of grace

How art thou my queen of bliss

Keep me in thine heart

For forever we are a part.


Days come and go without you

I have tough love but I miss you thats the truth

“Does true love exist”, why would anybody

ask that, when we exist.

Await my presence even if Prince George comes for you

I’m at war, for us, trying to reach success

Have a great heart like Penelope

I your Odysseus am on my way

It might take time but be strong.

I have great stamina like Kong5.

My body and mind is only troubled without you

My heart drips, deep red

My adrenaline travelling at the speed of light


“You are gonna miss me when you gone”, you were right.

A young beautiful lady from the valley

Beauty, charisma, queen, you define it

Do people really get heartbroken?

I haven’t seen it

You own my heart, beautiful

You are my life, Leandra.

I wish nothing but success in your life.

Behind a successful man, there’s a beauty who strives

Thats you my lady.


I had die for you

Let it happen and I’ll show you the truth

My true African queen, you give life to nature

Fine body like a mermaid from Mars

And you shine brighter than the stars.


I wanna be with you and only you

I wanna wake up next to you every morning

I will be there with you

Happiness, sadness, I’ll be there

You own my heart, Leandra.


Reem, 26 years old / Syria

Bia Davou’s work made me feel just the way I felt in the boat, travelling from Turkey to Greece. There weren’t any sails, of course, but the feeling was exactly the same. This may surprise you, but it is something that we Syrians feel and, I imagine, anybody who has experienced similar situations: when we see an image of the sea, we remember our journey, [and] when we see a suitcase, we remember the things we brought with us from back home. Psychologically, it’s a difficult situation. We need time to get over it. That’s why everything we see is connected with war and our adventures. Even now, I wake up and feel like I’m in Syria. I need some more time to get used to it and get over it.


I like seeing works created by female artists. I believe that every woman, wherever she lives, wants to be creative and to contribute to changing things about her place and role in society. Even in Arab countries, where women get married early and have to stay at home – often at the age of eleven – make dreams and try to change some things, first inside them and then outside, in society. Of course, this is not easy. Every girl learns from her mother how to take care of the house and the rest of the family and this passes from generation to generation. But any newly married girl you ask, what her dream is, her answer would be to finish school, go to university and continue to dream of the future. It is only that, after marriage, these dreams have to end. I’d really like to know what the men in our group think about the role of women in today’s society.


Still, I believe that women, even if they leave home and work, will never have the same rights as men do. In the end, they will have to be at home, to cook, to wash, to raise the children, meaning that all the responsibility for the home will still be hers. Even religion treats men and women differently. I am a Christian. My religion tells me that when a woman gets sick, her husband has the right to get married again. But the opposite is not the case. I know many women in Syria who have lost their husband and continue their lives, raising their children without any support, without getting married again.


Yaser, 27 years old / Syria

In the artwork Sails, which brings to mind a sea voyage, the sails are different colors. The brown suggests something old. The black sails represent the darkness of the things we experienced. I can see a white one, too. It’s the only sail that isn’t leaning left or right but is standing up straight. You could say it’s looking upward. This [sail] conveys hope.


It was interesting to learn that this work makes reference to Homer’s Odyssey, to Odysseus’ journey and to his wife, Penelope, weaving as she waits for him to return home. I recognize the importance of the woman’s role in the home. Wife, mother, sister—a woman is always the most important member of the family. When I got seriously injured, my wife was at my side to support me. The doctors said I had a 10% chance of ever getting out of bed again. I told her to leave me and get on with her life. But, instead, she showed great strength and stood by me until I finally got well. Personally, I have great respect for women.


I don’t want to comment on how different religions define the place of women in society. Anyway, each land and each society has its own customs and beliefs. People should be free to choose whatever religion they like. I’d like to mention, though, that Arab countries, despite the problems they’ve been facing in recent decades, can point to many important women who have distinguished themselves, in science, in the arts, in sport—in all areas; the famous architect Zaha Hadid, for example, who’s from Iraq, and Raha Moharrak, a young woman from Saudi Arabia who scaled Mount Everest, and other cases.


Idris, 17 years old / Afghanistan

Thanks to the work of Bia Davou I learned about the Odyssey. The story of Odysseus and his adventure is amazing and very instructive. I guess that’s why the world loves it so much. I would like to read it too. Also, I would like the book that I’ll write with my own adventures to become as famous. Indeed, life is a journey that begins from the moment we are born. Along the way, a lot of what will happen may be within our plans and other things not. What’s important, however, is our attitude.


Reem, 23 years old / Syria

Thanks to the work Sails by Bia Davou I learned about the story of Odysseus’s homeward voyage and I really enjoyed it. It made me think that our daily life is also a journey since, when we leave our houses, so many things can happen along the way, pleasant or unpleasant, that we haven’t planned. I also liked how Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, waited for him for so many years.


Aboud, 26 years old / Syria

The work Sails by Bia Davou touched me a lot. Although it is hard to understand in which direction the ships are going, we can tell that they are moving. It reminded me of our own journey at sea, in which we didn’t know where we would end up. It was night, dark, and there we were in a crowded plastic boat, like a drop in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t know if the boat would sink, if there was something wrong with it or if we would manage to get to the shore. It is a recollection of a good and a bad experience at the same time: there are families next to you with young children whose lives are in danger, and at some point you see a beach ahead and rejoice that you have finally reached firm ground. After this trip I only want to think about the land. And if I have to make a second trip, I hope it will be my return trip to Syria, but only when things will have calmed down and the country will start growing again.