Everyday life in Moria is explored in a highly acclaimed immersive video experience titled Life in a Camp that is currently on display at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London.
The exhibition was created in partnership with international news network CNN. IN+SIGHTS GREECE made a visit and caught up with Greek journalist Elinda Labropoulou, who has been covering refugee stories out of Greece for CNN and other international media for over 12 years and is one of the driving forces behind the immersive video project.
The project is part of the Refugees series of exhibitions at the IWM, exploring refugee experiences throughout history and ongoing issues faced, on display at the museum until May 24, 2021.
In 2015 a refugee crisis brought over a million people from war torn countries to Greece, straining the country’s resources particularly those of the four so called ‘frontline islands’, where migrants and refugees were housed in temporary camps. The biggest of the camps, Moria, on the island of Lesbos soon became a symbol for the global plight of refugees and a semi-permanent home for thousands until a large fire raised it to the ground in September 2020.
To experience Life in a Camp, visitors are asked to enter a 30 sq metre space with three large wall projections offering an intimate view of everyday reality for thousands of migrants and refugees who reach Europe through Greece’s shores.
The five-minute, thought-provoking experience utilises the news network’s pioneering panoramic video news gathering techniques, focusing on the use of 360 cameras, to provide a deeper understanding of the lives of contemporary refugees.
The video installation is filmed in two parts. The first part was shot in February 2020, a time when the camp was bursting at the seams with six times more people than its capacity as UNHCR figures reveal. In the video, people of all ages living in the camp are seen going about their daily chores, cooking, making tea in makeshift fires, huddling together to stay warm. Everyday actions that constitute their reality at the camp.
The power of Life in a Camp is that it allows visitors to experience five minutes of what, for many, is a reality that stretches on for years, the IMW points out. According to Simon Offord, Curator of Second World War and Mid 20th Century at IWM “Refugee camps can often feel like miniature cities, with permanent structures developing over time, but often, they are a rapid response to a pressing need. He adds that the project enables visitors to get “a snapshot of what life is really like in a camp, highlighting normality and routine within an unexpected place.”
Exploring themes of permanence and impermanence, Life in a Camp utilizes footage
captured by CNN’s three-time Emmy nominated filmmaker and photojournalist Lewis Whyld and journalist Elinda Labropoulou, revealing how refugees spend their time in camps providing insight of the harsh reality but also bittersweet moment of human adaptability and resilience as we follow children happily playing in the dirt, women making bread and a group of men from different ethnic backgrounds working together to build a makeshift mosque for the community.
“Following these everyday activities provides a sense of empathy. The immersive video is not about big headline events but about everyday life, the things any of us would do in similar circumstances. This helps the viewers instantly relate,” says Elinda.
The video seems like it could go on indefinitely. In this it is unsettling. “This life in a vacuum is a reality entire families, who risk their lives with the hope of reaching safety find themselves in.”
Everything changes dramatically in a split second as we enter the second part, filmed in September 2020, showing the aftermath of a large fire which raised the camp to the ground, throwing people’s lives again up in smoke and leaving more than 12,000 migrants and refugees without shelter. Blackened tree stamps, personal belongings that have travelled through great peril are seen lying on scorched earth.
The fire adds an extra layer to the transient existence of those featured in Life in a Camp, highlighting the vulnerable position they are in as they suddenly have to add an extra stop to their journey.
A new temporary camp to shelter those previously living in Moria is gradually being put up on Lesbos, says Elinda. “If we were to continue filming Life in a Camp the seemingly timeless, everyday reality we witness at the beginning of the video experience would resume. During my many trips to such camps, including Moria, I have repeatedly witnessed how this transient existence, that sometimes goes on for many long years, takes a toll on people’s morale and mental health as they continue their wait for a long-term home where they can rebuild their lives.”
The Refugees series of exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum include Ai Wei Wei’s striking installation History of Bombs and Forced to Flee.
All images CNN ©️