One night in November 2010 I was filming for national broadcast on ERT Television when I came across hundreds of Afghan refugees gathering in Victoria Square in downtown Athens. They were eager to tell their stories. As their children watched and babies slept in the warm arms of their mothers and fathers, astonishing refugee stories unfolded on camera. The Afghans spoke sincerely and passionately of their suffering, hunger, lack of humanitarian support, the needs of their children, police violence, and upholding their dignity. I had no idea that this encounter would significantly influence the next decade of my life as an artist.
At first I was stunned by my November 2010 encounter with Afghan refugees under the park lamps of Victoria Square. There was magic in watching hundreds of people anxiously speaking with an earnestness and immediacy that I had never before witnessed.
This event inspired my conception of Afghan Wave, a larger than life group portrait of the refugees I interviewed. Through Afghan Wave I could express my innermost life concerns. I treated each subject as though directing a film drama, layering light and colour and encouraging emotions to surface and blend within the group. As I painted, each Afghan character helped me to understand my own life issues and to find courage to imagine new solutions.
While reviewing the footage, I came to realize that the expressions which really told the story were those of the people listening and waiting for their interview. As the Afghans listened respectfully and intently to one another’s stories, emotion flowed transparently across their attentive faces. I discerned the anxiety, frustration, anger, betrayal, love, melancholy, concern, fear, and even playfulness in the gazes of several hundred Afghans of all ages as they heard their compatriots’ stories unfold. I selected and arranged the most poignant expressions and projected the composition onto an extensive stretched linen. Afghan Wave became a labour of love that spanned the next five years of my life. As I painted Afghan Wave it felt as though the respect and dignity my subjects implored was being restored one brush stroke at a time. Through the traditional process of oil painting, I felt as though I had discovered a way to attribute value and to restore humanity of my Afghan subjects.