National Hellenic Museum Marks Refugee Day with Powerful Photo Exhibition

The National Hellenic Museum in Chicago is marking World Refugee Day with a special photo exhibition — Lives Afloat: The Greek Refugee Crisis through the Lens of Tasos Markou 2015-2017 — which will open on Thursday.

The exhibition, that will run through spring 2019 on the first floor of the Museum, features photographs taken by Greek photographer Tasos Markou on the island of Lesvos between 2015 — at the height of the refugee crisis — and 2017.

On Saturday, the photographer will present a program at the Museum about his efforts to aid refugees in Greece. Throughout the next year the exhibition will be supplemented with public programming, docent-led tours and guest speakers to help raise awareness about the refugee crisis in general.

Markou said his experience documenting the lives of the refugees changed him. He went there as a photojournalist but also worked as a volunteer. “I decided it wasn’t enough to just be a good person. You have to act. Lesvos changed me. It would change anyone who comes here,” he said.

Through his camera lens, Markou tells the stories of some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who passed through Lesvos in those three years, trying to escape war and hunger. More than a third of them fled the Syrian civil war. Others escaped in fear of violence and total poverty, hoping for a better life in Europe, with Greece being the crossing point.

Some of the stories are sad, tragic, others are stories of hope and faith in humanity. The exhibition is divided into three parts: Arrivals; Waiting; and Borders — all illustrated with powerful photographs.

The images reflect the difficulties of crossing the Aegean from Turkey, the rescue operations, the living conditions in refugee camps, the endless waiting for the asylum-petition process, the difficulties of crossing the border to Central Europe, the overall hardships of displaced people.

For the Lives Afloat exhibition, the National Hellenic Museum exhibition team also utilized evidence-based reports and data from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Markou’s images.

The 35-year-old photographer was born in Larissa, central Greece, and studied photography at the Public Vocational Training Institute of Volos.