The Hammam was a creative and social space for women that promoted self-organisation and creative identity.
From 2016- 17 I co-created spaces and creative projects with residents at Katsikas refugee camp, Epirus, Greece. In a refugee camp day to day life is overwhelmingly determined by factors outside of the residents’ control.
All the spaces, programs, events and interventions I co-created with residents aimed to combat the disempowering rhythms of refugee camp life.
The women in the camp requested a safe space. There was a ruined Hammam in Ioannina (the nearest city to the refugee camp). Inspired by this cultural overlap (according to some historians there were around 40 ancient Hammams still operating in Aleppo up until 1970) and the meaning of the word (the “spreader of warmth”), I decided to transform an empty ISO box into a Hammam.
Inside the Hammam
I fundraised for sewing machines which were used for repairs and creative projects (including making slippers and curtains).
The Hammam held an important function in creating, eliding, adapting and transforming social identity in an empowering way within a self-determined context.
Documentation and representation
Ethically engaged and negotiated documentation is a key part of creating empowering and progressive representation.
Some of these images were taken by me, some by residents and some by Tommy Chavannes (who worked as communications coordinator for Lighthouse Relief Hellas).
The Hammam also seeded a range of cultural programs that spread into the nearest city (like puppet making with Antrala puppet theatre) and supported intercultural networking and connection.
1951 Refugee Convention
Ongoing detention of refugees is contrary to the objectives of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The longer a camp exists the lower the annual international funding and the greater the implications for human rights are.
The 2016 crisis
In 2016 people seeking sanctuary and safety became trapped in the middle of a European political stalemate. In the spring of 2016 I went to a refugee camp in Dunkirk. Here I learned about the situation in Greece which was a crisis point
In the summer of 2016 I travelled to Epirus, Northern Greece to volunteer in a closed camp for Yazidi people. This was set up by the UNHCR but there were very few support agencies on the ground.
I worked with about 300 women in this camp collaborating with a group of seamstresses to co-create a textile and clothes making project. My work was noted by an NGO working in a neighbouring camp. I was invited to work with them at Katsikas camp so when the Yazidi women I worked with were relocated I went to work there.
In 2016-17 I established a creative engagement program, exhibition and outreach program in collaboration with residents from Katsikas refugee camp, Greece.
At Katsikas camp there were between 300-650 residents from Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq. I collaborated with residents in the camp to establish a creative engagement program.
Communities of Practice
I co-created spaces inside the camp with residents and developed broader engagement projects that connected people to the city and agitated for integration through organising cultural projects and events.
These events and projects created networking opportunities between Greek locals and refugee residents, paved the way for self-organisation, cultural integration and challenged ghettoization.
My connection to Lighthouse Relief Hellas and CalAid gave me official permission to work in the camps, access to volunteers and a €200 monthly stipend (which I used on materials). My work was self-funded, self motivated and self generated.