Marina Tsekou

Costas Tsoclis, Portraits, 1986. 1. Alexandros Iolas, 2. Makis Papamichail, 3. Spyros Sakkas, 4. Eleni Tsocli, 5. Manos Perakis. Five video projections in colour on five paintings with acrylic on cloth. 300 x 220 cm each. Donated by the artist, 2002. National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST); Copyright EMST, Inv. No. 473/02 /// Harpooned Fish, 1985. Video installation. Color video, without sound, painted canvas, metal. Variable dimensions. Donated by the artist, 2017. National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST). Copyright EMST, Inv. No. 1075/17


The following interpretations of Costas Tsoclis' 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 



Beshr, 26 years old / Syria

To me, Costas Tsoclis’ piece depicts a family with a father, mother and son. There’s no girl. They don’t seem to be well-dressed or have much money. But you get the sense looking at them that they’re satisfied with their life. The fish in the middle that’s pinned down represents for me the woman who’s missing, the girl. That’s what I see, that’s what it makes me think of. What I mean is that the fish symbolizes a woman in society, who doesn’t have any rights and is tied down and restricted. As for the colors and the light, they don’t inspire much optimism either.

You can interpret each artwork in a lot of different ways, and during our conversations5 we would each give our opinions. But if you give it a little thought, you realize that we’re all saying more or less the same thing. Our views resemble each other. They’re not much different really, because we’ve all lived through a great hardship, a great adventure, and we all share a common history. After all that we’ve been through, we’ve all come together here.


Bibiche, 33 years old / Congo

In the work with the harpooned fish and the portraits around it, I saw a symbol of hope. When hope ceases to exist or when it’s damaged, then, as time goes on, a sense of disappointment emerges. And if people lose hope on their journey from youth to old age, it’s like moving from life to death. That’s what came to mind when I saw the last picture with the elderly man. I believe that even when you feel imprisoned—trapped—like the fish in the picture in the middle, you mustn’t give up trying, wherever you are, however trapped you feel. Otherwise, old age will leave you paralyzed.

As a refugee, I felt that the fish also symbolized all that sense of confinement I’ve experienced: first the horrible events I experienced in my village, and then the very hard and painful journey I made to escape, and now, my wounded present. I left my country for political reasons and now I’m here, alone with my children, and I don’t know if my husband is alive or dead. Even though what happened to me is a reality that seems to be stronger than I am, I have to try to get over it, to leave it behind and make a new start. For me, the artwork with the fish is very much like the journey of my life and the gradual passage from youth to old age. I feel these days like the wounded fish; the only thing I’m afraid of is old age. I want to do something with my life, to achieve something, to make something of myself before I reach the darkness of old age. Because if life is a fish and you lose it, you have to catch another one and continue with that one. In the end, that man6 isn’t just an artist. He’s a philosopher, and his work is profound and realistic.


Ghassan, 59 years old / Syria

In Costas Tsoclis’ artwork, I also saw some people: there’s a man who looks kind of anxious or annoyed, a woman who looks like she’s arrived someplace and is safe, and another man who’s somewhere in between and hasn’t reached his destination. But they’re all looking straight ahead in their lives. And then there’s the image with the fish that’s pinned down. It’s lost its freedom. This work has stayed in my mind more than any of the others. Because we all have to look ahead. We don’t forget our country and the problems it’s facing but we have to look ahead and see how we can build our lives without war. For those who come after us, for our children who need to find the world a peaceful one.

I’ve had to deal with a lot of difficult problems in my life, but I haven’t lost hope. I haven’t given up. I want to do something with my life, regardless of the difficulties. I wish the same thing for everyone else, I hope they keep on trying to work for a better world. That’s why we came here, for a better future. And I hope that we all get to the place we’ve set out for.


Mahdi, Student / Iran

I liked Costas Tsoclis’ work with the fish a lot. The fish has lost its freedom. I wouldn’t like to be in its place, no way. If each painting of this artist shows a different country, then mine is the one with the harpoon in it. And because I didn’t want to see all the awful things that were happening there, I wanted to go to a country which is at peace. Like the people in the paintings next to the fish, who are leaving to go to another country without looking at the fish. One of those people could be me, someone who doesn’t want to live in a country that’s being bombed.


Μaya, 26 years old / Tunisia

I identified with the harpooned fish in Costas Tsoclis’ artwork. For me, the people around the fish were like the members of my family, who ignored me. I was right there but they couldn’t see that I was suffering, that I wasn’t comfortable with who I was and that I wanted to be something else. I wanted to live as a woman. That’s why it was dangerous for me to walk down the street in my country. I had to hide who I was. I could only be myself when I worked on the stage. I have a mark on my body, just like the harpooned fish does, a scar from the time I was attacked on the street. But in the end, the mental trauma it left was even bigger. It may not show, but I feel it inside me all the time. Maybe Tsoclis’ work, too, is talking about mental trauma.

They say that people who’ve been wounded in life become good people. I believe it. Even though I’ve been hurt, even though my life’s been hard, I’m not asking for anyone’s help. I keep getting stronger, and I’m trying on my own to help myself and support myself. I get taunted a lot, and people on the street often look at me in a weird way. I smile back at them, which kind of startles them. I don’t resent anybody. Just the opposite, if I can help someone, I will, whatever way I can. I’m not even angry with my family. I understand it was hard for them to accept me. All I want is someone to love me and maybe then, the wounds will heal.


Mo-Sabi, 19 years old / Iraq

Another problem in Iraq is the status of women. Women have no place in society. While in other countries we talk about human rights, in my country, and other places, women are oppressed: for example, they are denied the right to dress as they choose, or they may be married off to a much older man just so their families can solve their problems. I cannot accept violence against women, something I’ve seen happen before my eyes.

The Harpooned Fish by Costas Tsoclis represents the woman that suffers this oppression. Also, seeing the portrait of the woman standing next to the fish, I think of the attitude of women who stand idly by, watching oppression, or even supporting it. They see other women suffering and do nothing. Even in the case of a girl being raped, society will argue that the blame was hers. There is no empathy. Culture has always been associated with women, that’s why today they need to have the place they deserve in society.


Reem, 23 years old / Syria

Syria had an age-old history and now everything has vanished because of the war. This is what the work by Costas Tsoclis reminded me of. The Harpooned Fish is my country, which has been destroyed. Around it – just like the portraits around the fish – are the other countries, which do nothing to save it. But, the fish is fighting to save itself, so as long as it’s fighting, there’s hope.


Zacharia, 46 years old / Syria

What I am unable to put in words are the crimes against humanity that I saw before my eyes. How can you even start to describe a mother who sees her child getting killed and cannot go near, because snipers are looming above… Snipers can kill anyone. They can hit a passerby in the leg and wait for the next person passing by to offer help, so they can hit that person as well and continue to do this until there’s a pile of dead bodies.

The Harpooned Fish by Costas Tsoclis is an artwork that shows in a most representative way what is happening to our country, what is happening to us. I agree, however, with Reem, that as long as the fish is moving, there is hope. One who fights and does not surrender, shall not die.


Aboud, 26 years old / Syria

In Syria I was studying Law, but in the third year I was forced to interrupt my studies because of the war. And yet I have not given up on trying to rebuild my life. As shown by the inventive work of Costas Tsoclis, we should not regard any achievement as a full stop at the end of a sentence, but constantly strive for the best.