The Aegean Project

Tanja Boukal has been dealing with politically explosive places for years. These places are deeply connected with the fortune of people who struggle hard for a better life. Some of them pay with their lives for their decisions.

The socio-political background

The Aegean Sea is a silent cemetery where the water has already swallowed thousands of dead.
In 2015, 848.000 people tried to escape to the EU via the Aegean Sea. About 3.735 people died. Almost half of the people came from Syria; one in five came from Afghanistan, eight percent fled from Iraq.
In the first twenty days of 2016, 35.455 refugees and migrants reached Greece across the Aegean Sea. At least 94 people lost their lives when crossing.
Although the number of migrants dropped after the EU-Turkey deal came into effect in March, the number of refugees heading for Greece has once again gone up.
Currently (September 2016), there are at least 15.000 displaced persons on the Greek islands, with the camps available only able to handle half that many. And new boats arrive every day.

The Research

Tanja Boukal has investigated the situation and the misery of people on the run, on the way to Europe, during several stays in Turkey and in Greece in 2016. She talked with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan about their dangerous journey. She worked and discussed with Turkish, Greek and international volunteers.
 
Boukal was at many places which are hardly known. She visited small bays on the Turkish coast where rescue rings and children’s shoes lie on the beach and clothes drift in the water. She was expelled in Izmir when she wanted to document the business with the refugees. She has been looking for refugee camps that exist only on paper. In Dikili, she was pursuing deportation buses together with Turkish activists.
 
On the Greek island of Samos, Tanja Boukal smuggled herself into the refugee camp and - together with inmates - documented the misery of the camp. She joined the Swedish sea rescue for a mission in the coastal waters around Samos. She visited the cemeteries, where the victims of the fortress Europe are buried in hidden fields.
 
But the artist also had many positive experiences. With Turkish activists, she spoke of their support for women on the run. She agreed with inhabitants in Piraeus that help is self-evident. And with very many refugees, she had touching experiences and wonderful conversations.
 
She wrote about all of this on her blog The Aegean Project.

The Aegean Project was first presented in the exhibition A World Not Ours, Summer 2016, Samos (Greece)

The Artistic Implementation

Izmir Concrete is an installation with photography and cement bricks, which was created following a visit to Basmane, a neighborhood in the heart of the port city of Izmir where the wheels of the refugee smuggling economy continue to spin. It provides insight into that business and what remains unseen before the ominous crossing to Greece.

Memories of Travels and Dreams is a photographic work produced by the artist, who crossed from Greece to Turkey and back again during her trip to Samos. The work is about the difference of a trip on the same route. It is about the absurd situation where your passport decides whether you will go on an idyllic tourist journey or you will risk your life.

Finally, Boukal also produced a new video, Down by the sea, filmed at a cemetery in Pythagorion, Samos, where Syrian children who did not survive the crossing to Greece have been buried.