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Hérōs

a photographic project about the refugee crisis by

Matjaž Tančič

The Hérōs project

The Hérōs is a photographic project created by Matjaž Tančič as a reaction to the recent rise of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. It was accomplished during a three-week artist residency in collaboration with ArtsUp on the Greek island of Samos in June 2016.

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Statues in National Archaeological Museum of Athens

This island is one of the main European gateways for Syrian, Middle Eastern and African refugees and migrants, but it's also a land marked by a long history and tradition of art and culture. The project is articulated through a fine tension between this moment of history and the history of art itself.

Drawing inspiration from Ancient Greek storytelling and art pieces depicting mythological heroes, Tančič rejected a standard documentary approach in favor of something more personal. This allowed him to not only focus on real human destinies in a unique way, but also to portray his subjects in a completely new perspective.

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Statue in National Archaeological Museum of Athens


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Haju Mirvan, Syria
Pictured after he found out his asylum application was denied. He will re-apply with help from the medical personnel since he is their long-term translator and helping hand.

Essentially, Tančič decided to exploit, as French theorist G. Didi-Huberman put it, an anachronistic character of the image. This means that even though the Hérōs project serves as a witness of current humanitarian and political problems, Tančič found a way to escape the simplistic logic of mass-media coverage by opening a multi-layered space of artistic and historical reflection.

Migrants and refugees took the very same sea routes and dangerous itineraries as the heroes of ancient mythology

The connection to mythological heroes followed naturally from the fact that the island's migrants and refugees took the very same sea routes and dangerous itineraries as the heroes of ancient mythology. But the analogy does not stop there: like their mythological precursors, they had enough courage and strength to brave a long journey through uncertain seas in order to find a better future.

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Habib Majida, Syria
She was sentenced to 7 months in prison for her work as a journalist. She has escaped Syria but is still being followed. She works in the camp as a teacher for the kids and a translator.
Majida's journey
"We stayed for seven hours on a small boat with 85 people. Men were seated at the edges, women and kids in the middle.
Halfway through, the engine cut out, so we tried using our hands to paddle. Some people were praying, others started to scream that we would die there in the middle of the sea.
I still remember the smell of the sea and the smell of the people around me... and the look of their pale, desperate faces.
In the end, the Greek police found the boat and brought it to the island. When we arrived, what we saw there were police, soldiers, and the fences of a camp."

During the residency, Tančič collected stories from migrants, refugees and humanitarian workers in addition to photographing them. When reading those poignant stories and looking at their monumental portraits, the title becomes obvious, although they all readily rejected it - probably because modesty is also a characteristic of real heroes. But if the project had a subtitle, it would certainly be something like “Ode to Humanity.”

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Remote beach in North Samos
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Ayev Jonathan, Burundi
He's 19 years old and volunteers in a camp as a translator. He speaks 4 languages and wants to study economics.
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Pater Makarios, Greece
"I want the only thing left about me to be my name and date on my tombstone, when the time comes for that"
salt print on life jacket
 
 
 
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Statue in National Archaeological Museum of Athens


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Haralambous Jannis, Canada/Greece
A captain from the boat rescue team. He is sitting on the most remote part of the peninsula of a national park. Due to natural protection there are no roads which makes all the rescues extremely hard.
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Felemegkas Giorgos, Greece
He works as a police officer in the camp. In the evenings he relaxes by fishing in the port.

Herōs reminds us, indirectly, of the importance of knowledge of the other. The series does not put forward poor people without names, but particular individuals with particular stories, hopes and plans who have already done enough to be considered heroes of our times.

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Refugee camp in Samos, Greece
Andrew Frania, United States of America
Extract from an interview with a former US marine about life in the camp.

In other words, the project sheds light on all of those – migrants, refugees and volunteers – who would have otherwise remained just a mere number. The refined photographic composition and the atmosphere of the images put even more emphasis on their heroic characters while simultaneously creating a visual dialogue with images of ancient heroes.

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Statue in National Archaeological Museum of Athens


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Towel Rami, Syria
He used to be a seller of British car parts. His mechanical knowledge saved the lives of those on his refugee boat when he managed to fix its broken motor in the middle of the sea. He wants to go to France since he learned French back in school.

The project got its decisive methodological articulation through an experimental approach to different materials, techniques and work processes. The final photographs were printed onto life jackets and pieces of rubber boats the artist found on the island's remote beaches. These concrete objects used by refugees and migrants during their journey now serve as an artistic medium to present them as heroes.

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Nikolaidis Argiris, firefighter, Greece
He helps in the search and rescue missions when refugees land on remote, steep or wild areas of the island.

Paradoxically, single-use and almost banal items became artifacts that will keep and preserve their stories for the future.

Furthermore, in a parallel to the ancient sculptors commissioned to create statues and immortalize people and stories from the past, an expert in the old photographic technique called salt prints was commissioned to make the prints and preserve them in the memory.

Besides the symbolism of the sea and migrants' perilous journey across it in the name 'salt,' the salt print technique is another layer of experimental questioning, in this case of the history of photography.

The recurring mix of new and old reinforces the idea of the subtle balance between the actual present situation and many historical references.

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Asfari Zakero, Syria
In the camp they call him Jesus. He worked in a steel factory.
salt print on life jacket
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Suheila, Afghanistan
salt print on rubber boat piece

But it is even more important that this technique, invented by photography pioneer H. Fox Talbot, is one of the most durable, as are these contemporary plastic materials that could possibly last thousands of years.

In consequence, the resulting artworks offer, in the manner of modern archaeology, future vestiges of our time. They will convey and transmit our contemporary stories, practices and artistic solutions to the next generations. Some day, someone might once again reinterpret this project, just like this project did with ancient art.

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Nikolaidi Iokasti, Greece
At the peak of the crisis on Samos she founded Women of Samos. They cooked a thousand meals per day for the refugees on top of doing their regular jobs and taking care of their own families.
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Statue in National Archaeological Museum of Athens


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Suheila, Afghanistan
Fashion model and fashion designer. In the camp she is leading a fashion design workshop for girls.

The project is a kind of tribute to those who survived but also to those who did not. We know that photography has the ability to present an absence, but the images of an open sea, incorporated into this portrait series, double that effect.

Their silence carries a disturbing suggestion of all the lives lost in addition to the ones portrayed.

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Statue in National Archaeological Museum of Athens


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Mohammad Mustafa, Syria
A 22-year-old hairdresser. He was wounded twice in bomb attacks in Syria.
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Larch Sallie, United States of America
84 year-old volunteer and artist, she has been living in the Paradise hotel along with some other refugee families, collecting stories about their lives and helping other volunteers along the way.

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Can Abdullah, Syria
He is 17 years old, makes tattoos and loves photography.


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Muhammad Ali, Afghanistan
 
Hérōs is less a document and much more an open book with echoes of past, present and future

Support the project

Photographs produced during the residency are sold as limited edition photographic prints and as a photo book. 60% of the proceeds go to the Samos Volunteers organization and 40% for the further development of the Hérōs project.


Supporting options include:


Heros merchandise

Portrait print

Print size 22,5 x 15cm on archival paper

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Portrait photograph of your choice

Limited edition of 8, print size 90 x 60 cm. Pigment printed on matte archival paper

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Book - Zine with photographs from Samos

Limited edition of 100, signed

Heros merchandise

Portrait printed on a life jacket or rubber boat piece

Hand printed, salt print. Each piece is unique. Approximate size of 30 x 20cm (limited edition of 8)

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About the artist

Matjaž Tančič (1982) is a Slovenian photographer of the younger generation, who lives and creates between Beijing and Ljubljana.

He began his path as a photojournalist for Mladina magazine, but quickly made his way abroad – Matjaž is a graduate of the London College of Fashion.


Call +386 31 347 066 →
Email matjazz@gmail.com →
Visit matjaztancic.com →

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Hérōs

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There are no words to thank enough to everyone that had help this project happen! Andrea Carafa and the ArtsUp organisation, Michelle Garnaut and her amazing team, Paula Schwarz and the Schwarz foundation for helping this project to happen. Sarah Weber for project production and coordination. Anna Pipilis for the PR and support. Benjamin Rančič for the Heros website. Snježana Simić for the text about the project. Maša Cvetko for the book concept development. Celine Lamee for design. Miša Keskenović and Breda Špacapan for the incredible hand-made salt printing. Aaron Fox Lerner for proofreading and of course all the amazing people I have had the pleasure and honour to meet and photograph in Samos.

- Matjaž Tančič

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