Marina Tsekou

DO-HO SUH, Staircase II, 2004. Installation. Translucent nylon; Variable dimensions. National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST) Loan from the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Copyright EMST. Inv. No. 537/04


The following interpretations of DO-HO SUH'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



Ava, 29 years old / Iran

Of course, we know that in a foreign country, things are different from what they are in our country. We weren’t expecting them to be the same. When you leave your country to start a new life elsewhere, you’ve got to be able to adjust. What we can do, though, is to shape our environment and the space we live in to give us a feeling of the life we had back home. One simple way is filling our home with pictures of our loved ones, such as our mother and brothers and sisters. When we look at them we have the feeling they’re close by.

The artist Do-Ho Suh is trying to convey something similar in his artwork. When he got to New York City, he didn’t expect to find the tranquillity of his father’s house in Korea. But he decided to create a calm and peaceful work of art that would let him bring some of the peacefulness of the village to the noisy city of New York.


Bryan, Student / Zimbabwe

It is very important to build a strong base and focus all your efforts on it. That’s what I saw in the Staircase II, by Do-Ho Suh, one of the works we discussed at the Museum. In this work, the staircase does not rest on the floor but is hanging from the ceiling. When I saw it, I thought that the artist wanted to show the way forward in fulfilling our dreams and to draw our attention to our first steps, but also the importance of having solid foundations in life so that we can be stable, and to build our future on them.


Kourosh, 34 years old / Iran

When you go to a foreign country, you can’t change the country or the conditions you will face there. But you can change your immediate environment to suit you. That’s what came to mind when I saw Do-Ho Suh’s artwork. “Home” for me doesn’t mean the building. A home is what the members of a family create. “Home” means family, memories and feelings, which you can carry with you wherever you go.

I also associated the artwork with what a refugee is experiencing. From the moment you decide on a journey like this you can’t expect to find a safe staircase waiting for you to climb. There are times when you’ll tread on stairs that aren’t steady, like the ones in Do-Ho Suh’s artwork. And, of course, you can’t stop halfway; you need to find a way to keep going. I remember when we visited Nafplio, we went to the fortress and saw that there were a lot of steps to climb. When they told us there were more than 900 steps, we all wondered how we could possibly make it up there. Ten of us started out. By the time we got to the top there were only four of us. We four were the only ones to enjoy the magnificent view from up high.


Daas, 28 years old / Syria

Do-Ηo Suh’s work with the staircase gives you the sense it’s probably about the artist’s dream of being in another world, perhaps in Paradise.  I think it’s because the way the work is lit; the lighting is diffuse and bright and calming. Furthermore, the staircase is made of fabric, which is very light and obviously not solid enough to step on and climb. Besides, when we dream, our footsteps don’t feel heavy. Finally, the staircase is higher than the ground, precisely to show that the work isn’t about the real world but a world we can enter from our dreams.

The work reminded me of a dream I used to have when I was young. I would dream that I was climbing a ladder and when I got near the top, I’d fall down. There was no one around. As I was falling, I felt that I was going to die but, in the end, I wasn’t hurt. I still have dreams with ladders and falling off roofs.


Yaser, 27 years old / Syria

Regarding Do-Ho Suh’s work, I wonder why, out of all the places in the family house he could have shown, the artist chose to depict the staircase. Maybe he wanted to represent his effort to get somewhere. But as we can see, the staircase isn’t touching the floor. Maybe this is meant to show his fear of reaching his goal or it could refer to a dream he had; besides the work’s pink color is suggestive of dreams.

In the house I’m living in Athens today, I feel as comfortable as I did in my house back home. Of course, here I live with another family, but I don’t find that a problem. We respect each other and so we can live well under the same roof. The important thing is that I feel safe in the house and there are no bombs falling outside.

War has destroyed my country, as well as other Arab countries. When there’s war, progress ends, and civil liberties and intellectual activity cease. Everything comes to a halt, and the country and its people’s future are ruined. Before the war, I had everything in Syria: a house, a car, a large and loving family, an education. I was studying law. But during the war I wasn’t allowed to continue for the third year of studies because I’m Kurdish. After that, what kind of future can I expect for my son in that country?

Syria is my country. But I’m here now and ready to “break my identity”, to live and contribute to a country that can offer me on an equal basis what it offers every citizen, and to ensure my son’s future.


Idris, 17 years old / Afghanistan

If you want to achieve anything, you need to put effort into it. This is what I saw in Do-Ho Suh’s piece, where each step, as you climb it, has its difficulty. You cannot reach the top right away. That’s what I understand. I didn’t pay attention to the colours of the installation, but to the staircase. The greatest difficulty lies in the first step: the first step is the hardest.

This work of art has a positive message and shows the truth about life: that you need to put effort into reaching your goals. My goal, for now is, to finish school. Anyone who does not go to school is not a complete person. I want to become a lawyer, to be able to help those in need. To be the voice of those who need help. I know that, to succeed, it will take a lot of studying and practising the language.


Mo-Sabi, 19 years old / Iraq

…on my journey here I encountered many problems. For example, my bag fell into the sea, and so I lost all my belongings. There are so many problems, and each day, when we wake up, we have to think of everything we need to deal with.

But I followed the example of Do-Ho Suh, who turned a difficult period of his life into a creation, a work of art. Only I made a tattoo out of it. A friend designed it and, when he explained his idea to me, I really liked it and wanted it drawn on me. The lines show all the difficulties that I went through and those I still have in front of me until I reach the stars, which symbolise my goals. Above, where the stars slowly start to fade, is the end. I’ve started from very low, from this wound, from utter destruction, and slowly I am rising. As soon as I get my high school diploma, I will have reached the stars and from there I will be able to fulfil my dreams.


Reem, 23 years old / Syria

The Staircase by Do-Ho Suh is a very strange installation. I would say that the staircase leads to something positive, to where one wants to get to, to a “soulful summer.” But these stairs and the way you can climb them is strange, and you may not make it to the summer. I like this artwork because it shows the effort, the future, a person’s ability to get to where they want to. My own “soulful summer” is my family.


Zacharia, 46 years old / Syria

On the staircase created by Do-Ho Suh, I firstly notice two elements: the pink colour, which creates the feeling of joy, and the light, the glow that comes from above. The stairs, climbing them, is the hardship, the effort one puts into achieving a goal. Each time you achieve a goal, you set a new one. Whatever has happened in the past stays in the past, both the good and the bad memories. Yet we never stop setting goals.


Aboud, 26 years old / Syria

People who have fled their country and now live in a completely different environment need to express themselves, to share their experiences with others. Whether they have fled as refugees or because they want to study or for any other reason, they always have a feeling of nostalgia and fondness for those they have left behind.

These were my thoughts when we discussed the work of Do Ho Suh, who left his country because he wanted to pursue his studies in New York. We, on the other hand, were forced to abandon our land and didn’t even have the time to think about it or make plans for it. Although we cannot change what has happened in the past, we can learn from our experiences and try to build our future the way we want it to be. What I dream of now is to have stability and security in my life and to be able to make plans for the future of my children.


Farida, 28 years old / Afghanistan

When we were discussing the work of Do Ho Suh, I thought about how the artist has happy memories from his past and his childhood. On the contrary, we refugees have been through a lot and it’s not easy for us to forget our many problems. But in life you have to stand on your own two feet and move forward, regardless of where you end up.


Khalida, student / Afghanistan

…out of all of the pieces, the work by artist Do Ho Suh, depicting a ladder made of fabric was the one that I loved the most. I really loved the pink fabric. It was very “girly”. I also find a nice symbolism to it because our life is indeed like a staircase which we have to climb slowly and watch our step. This is how my family and me were able to make it here, to safety, alive and well.

When I grow up I want to be a lawyer, because I like helping people and working for their benefit. I will try my hardest to become a lawyer. Slowly and carefully I am going to make it to the top of life’s staircase.