From Iceland — Pillow Talk: An Artist Brings Asylum Seeker Stories To The Public

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Paul Fontaine

Artist Sonja Kovačević has just launched a project called Pillow Talk, which will be touring various locations around Reykjavík over the next few days. The traveling installation, developed as a part of the MFA programme in Performing Arts at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, invites the general public to lay down on emergency cots, originally slated for asylum seekers in Iceland, and listen to audio of different asylum seekers recount in their own words why they left their home countries in search of safety in Iceland.

“I always wanted to make a project with asylum seekers and refugees where I involved the public on a more sensory level,” Sonja told Grapevine. “Many times I think people have made up their minds already, so you can circumvent the facts on an intellectual level. I was also inspired to use these beds the first time I saw a picture in Fréttablaðið of [Directorate of Immigration director Kristín Völundardóttir] lying in one of these beds.”

Sonja hopes that, when people listen to asylum seekers talk about the dangers they faced back home, they will come to a better understanding of these people, saying, “By lying down and listening to asylum seekers telling their stories, you can’t so easily dismiss them as ‘the others’.”

“If the minority has been oppressed, it is normal for the minority to appeal. It’s very important, and I’m happy to see this project, that I can speak from my point of view.”

Grapevine spoke with some of the asylum seekers involved about why this project was important to them.

Eze Jude Emeka of Nigeria: “I wanted to take part in this project because it’s sometimes very good for us to come together, there are things we have to say but we don’t know how to address it. At least we can come together like this, I think it’s something of joy and happiness to communicate with one another about the refugee issue. To ask ourselves, how do we start and where do we go from here? I only ask that whatever decision is made [by immigration authorities], they make it in the proper way and not by violating the law, because democracy is a system whereby the government is shared with the people. If the minority has been oppressed, it is normal for the minority to appeal. It’s very important, and I’m happy to see this project, that I can speak from my point of view.”

Azad Smail Ali of Iraq, journalist and civil activist: “Iceland is a beautiful country. I think we must work together to make it better than beautiful. Her project is very important for all refugees. It makes refugees and Icelanders mix together, to know each other.”

Ramazan Fayazi of Afghanistan: “I joined this project to share my situation so that everyone knows about it. I’ve been living in Iceland for about seven months now. Sweden wants to send me back to Afghanistan, so I am trying my best to stay here, but it’s very hard. I want everyone to know about the conditions in Afghanistan. We’re in a very bad situation, and many of us are in danger.”

The full schedule for Pillow Talk is as follows:

August 16, Reykjavík:
13:00-14:00 Lækartorg
14:00-15:30 Skólavörðustigur
15:30-17:00 Square in front of Hallgrimskirkja

August 17, Hafnarfjörður:
12:00-14:00 Fjarðargata
14:00-16:00 Strandgata

August 18, Reykjavík:
13:00-14:00 The little garden between Lækjargata and Skólastræti
14:00-15:30 Arnarhóll
15:30-17:00 Faxagata in front of Harpa

August 19, Reykjavík Culture Night:
Tjarnarbíó 14:00-16:00

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