Asphodel Songs

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 carry 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?

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. The island, its populations and their constant movements, transmit to us a universal, timeless story, and make Asphodel Songs resonate.

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Ancient cave of the Oracle of Orpheus. According to mythology, after the Maenads dismembered his body, Orpheus’ head and lyre washed up on the shores of Lesvos. 2020.10.27

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

A man flees tear gas during clashes between inhabitants and the Greek riot police. The policemen were sent from Athens by the government in order to ensure the construction of a new closed camp for asylum seekers. 2020.02.25

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Mohammed, 24 years old, from Basra, arrived on the 15th of March 2018 in Lesvos. The waiting and the poor living conditions in Moria camp pushed him to go back to Iraq. 2018.05.13

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Mamoon from Mosul in Iraq, Issa and Aziz from Damascus in Syria bathe in the Gulf of Gera. 2018.05.13
i

Mamoon from Mosul in Iraq, Issa and Aziz from Damascus in Syria bathe in the Gulf of Gera. 2018.05.13

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Ancient Greek inscription on a column of the thermal baths in the village of Paralia Thermis. 2020.11.06
i

Ancient Greek inscription on a column of the thermal baths in the village of Paralia Thermis. 2020.11.06

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Icon of the Virgin Mary brought back from the island of Marmara by the refugees of 1922 during their exile. The black faces in the paintings could indicate that the Greek population coming from this region had very dark skin. 2020.03.04

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Traditional village celebration in Loutropoli Thermi. In 1922, many Greek refugees from Asia Minor settled here and today the village has shelters for the most vulnerable asylum seekers. 2018.05.01

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Anastasia Chourmouziadis, professor of museology at the University of the Aegean Sea, and descendant of Greek refugees from Asia Minor. Together with her students, she leads projects related to the history of migration in Lesvos. 2020.02.25

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Remains of makeshift shelters left by the refugees after the fire that destroyed the entire Moria camp. 2020.09.19
i

Remains of makeshift shelters left by the refugees after the fire that destroyed the entire Moria camp. 2020.09.19

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

A few days after the fire that totally destroyed Moria camp, Zaza and other young Syrians share a meal under a makeshift shelter. 2020.09.15

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Nikos Firvilis’ grandfather (archive photo) arrived on the island of Lesvos after fleeing Asia Minor between 1920 and 1922. Today, his grandson, a nurse at Mytilene hospital, is reviving this culture through the Traces of the East association. 2020.03.07

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Mamoon, 28, from Mosul in Iraq, contemplates the Roman aqueduct built by Emperor Hadrian, near the village of Moria. Blocked since two months because of the EU-Turkey agreements, this is his second visit on the island as an asylum seeker. In 2015, he had spent only a few days there before being granted asylum in Germany. 2018.05.10

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

S., originally from Egypt. Since the burning of Moria camp, he chose to live in hiding in a World War II bunker built on a hill overlooking the sea where the ruins of several ancient cities dating back to 3000 BC remain. 2020.10.24

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

A fire burns to revive pastures before the rain. Slash-and-burn farming is an ancient agricultural technique in Lesvos. 2020.10.27

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Tattoo on the arm of Ali, 21 years old, from Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent a year in Moria camp before the fire on the 9th of September 2020, and now lives in the new camp built on the Kara Tepe military firing range. 2020.09.18

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees pray during Easter celebrations. The small Orthodox chapel is lent by the Greek Pope of the village of Moria. 2018.04.06

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Tamata hanging on an icon in Petra Monastery, with the inscription «Thank you» on one of them. These ex-votos are very common in the Greek Orthodox Church. 2020.11.04

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Olive trees burning in the informal part of Moria camp. 2020.02.14
i

Olive trees burning in the informal part of Moria camp. 2020.02.14

© Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui - Image from the Asphodel Songs photography project
i

Refugees wait in line for a food distribution. For the past three days, due to the fire in Moria camp, they have been living with more than 11,000 other people in an informal camp on the industrial estate outside Mytilene. 2020.09.12

Prev Next Close