Social Forum in Athens – a sculptural war zone


Headlines, CNN and BBC: “Riots in Athens; anarchists in Athens; police clash in Athens; Athens is a war zone”. They are covering the European Social Forum, indeed. All showing the same pictures of that one torched police car and that one McDonalds that was attacked by a small handful of people. Less do they show about the thousands of peaceful demonstrators walking through the streets of Athens, sharing their messages with each other and the many Athenians interestingly observing the powerful manifestation. Less do they tell about this peaceful crowd and the local Athenians suffering from tear gas, at that moment unaware why the Greek police had to go to that extent.

As many times before, we as participants have our own stories, different from the somewhat alien ones shown on TV. What we experienced was being part of perhaps a slightly disorganised, but still well behaved crowd, enjoying the day under the sun and enjoying the various activities we all engage in. AIDOH and the sculptures are now known to many people here and the level of respect and curiosity was high among both the other demonstrators and the people passing by. Of the 20,000 brochures we brought from Denmark only a few copies, for ourselves, are remaining. It was a fruitful day for AIDOH; we gave out brochures, spoke with people, answered questions, were interviewed live by the radio and discussed with feminists about the choice of a woman sitting there, on a starving man (Survival of the Fattest). People react in many different ways to the sculptures; as we had a necessary stop to use the bathroom at a Ghanaian hair salon, we found ourselves in a hot tempered discussion with a group of African women in Greece, who wanted to understand why we had travelled all the way from Denmark with the sculptures. They thought the manifestation was a purely anarchist one, but today the poster is hanging in their shop and they asked us to call whenever we are back in Athens.

Once again, we experience how art can be so impressive, like these sculptures, and is a very powerful tool to get the message through. The sculptures appeal to people’s senses and they cannot help feeling something; anger, disgust, sadness. One Belgian farmer told us that he saw ‘The Mad Cow’ sculpture in Hong Kong. He was pleased that we did not bring it to Athens, as he did not like what it did to people. “You are portraying your own version of the truth and it might not be the right one. But by using a powerful tool as the sculptures, you will get through to the people much better than I will with my arguments and written pamphlets and therefore you have to think twice about what you are doing; whether it is the right story you are telling”. We went into a long discussion about the use of art in politics, about the agricultural subsidies and alternatives to the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU. Actually that is the purpose of us being here – to be able to reach out and engage in discussions with different people about their reactions to the artworks, be it Belgian farmers, African hairdressers or reluctant by-passers in the street of Athens. The mission is not to portray the eminent TRUTH through the sculptures, but to let them and the background information inspire and give birth to internal and external dialogues among people. The sculptures serve as a powerful tool to reach a higher level of reflection and awareness, or at least they are capable of leaving an image that might rest in people’s minds as a strong memory of the Social Forum that took place in Athens.

This morning we went through the last batch of workshops at the Social Forum and of course, the most natural place for the AIDOH girls’ team to be – apart from constantly distributing the brochures - was where the combination of art and politics was to be discussed: Art as an important tool for social movements to reach out to a more diverse group of people. Art as a political activity, being different from the ‘fine arts’. The last topic is not new and many people and artists in this field fully live up to the distinction - they are co-creators of it. AIDOH brings another perspective, as Jens Galschiot and his artwork is well known in what many activists would call ‘the fine arts’. That condition is actually the mere reason why AIDOH can be present at Social Forums, at WTO ministerial meetings and can engage in collaboration with social movements that have difficulties raising the necessary funds to live out their ideas.

Art as an individual way of expression and art as a collaborative effort to get through with political opinions is another present topic at such meetings. Networks are to be established and plenty of initiatives are already here, being presented at the meetings. ECOTOPIA, an activist gathering taking place in August in Slovakia. Mozaiko, a creative workspace for a Euro-wide and action based workshops on art and socio-political issues. The Art and Activism Caravan, an international road-show travelling through South-East Europe. 

And then we all go back home, to each of our corner of Europe. Perhaps tired and tear gassed, but hopefully also satisfied and motivated. We might not have a common language, but we all came together in Athens, with all our different political focal points and activities, contributing in various ways to show that “a different world IS possible”.



The AIDOH girls, Athens
Jenni, Caroline and Camilla


Level Up

The AIDOH girls' Friday comment: They are all here to the English version of this document   2006: European Social Forum, Athens
Additional Information:
Categories: 2006: European Social Forum, Athens | 2006: International projects | Social Forums
Themes: Agricultural subsidies | Arts debate | Criticism of governments | Ecology - sustainable development | Globalisation | Hunger and malnutrition | Imbalanced wealth distribution | NGO activities | World trade
Sculptures: Balancing Act | Hunger Boys | Survival of the Fattest
Type: Articles
Dates: 6th May 2006
Locations: Athens, Greece
Co-operators and Helpers: Camilla Nielsen-Englyst | Jennifer Barron, USA | Krakagården | Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Greece
Sponsors: BUPL | FTF / Civil Servants´ and Salaried Employees´ Confederation | LO - Association of Danish Trade Unions | Stilladsarbejdernes Landsklub