When contemporary Art meets the sad European news
It all started in 2013, when Nikos Papadopoulos was playing with his eldest son John-Marios. “We were pretending to go to bed using Playmobil – and it gave me the idea to recreate scenes not only about home life, but the whole of society,” he says.
Since then, the 36-year-old comedy writer from Thessaloniki has become Greece’s latest art star. He’s spent around €900 on Playmobil to make dozens of artworks in his living-room studio. He approaches the work like a satirist – setting up the figurines to express his political opinions (he could be called a visual columnist or a toy cartoonist). He then photographs the dioramas and posts them on his Plasticobilism fan page.
His first piece was to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November). It shows a woman with black eyes. “When I saw that photo, it gave me the chills,” he says.
Since then he has focused on the refugee crisis. In one work, a crammed boat sails the ocean while a mother cradles a young boy – which calls to mind the three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on the Turkish seaside. “With this photo,” he says, “I wanted to remind people that there are no illegal immigrants – only immigrants.”
In another image, a beach scene (based on a real photo he saw in the news) shows tourists on the island of Kos as refugees arrive by boat. “In the real photo,” says Papadopoulos, “the mother and her son came from the sea, and a woman lying on a sunbed turned away from them to avoid refugees ruining her vacation.”
In his version, a mother in a red burqa carries a child to the shore – while a sunbathing woman in a polka-dot bikini raises her sunglasses to get a closer look.
“It’s a message to those who care only about themselves and don’t give a damn about people who suffer from war,” says Papadopoulos, “while ironically, the only thing they want is a safer and better life for them and their children.”
He also targets the Greek financial crisis, with an ATM machine dragging a bank customer along by a chain. It’s a symbol of the austerity at home – it was only recently that bank machines would only let people withdraw €60 at a time. “It was like all these people were slaves to the machines – that’s why I named this photo ATM’s Bitch. The bottom line is: be afraid of empty humans instead of empty ATMs.”
His hilarious compositions carry chilling truths, like the one that shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Viking hat holding two Greek politicians on leashes, both of whom are eating Euros out of dog bowls.
“These two men symbolise the prime minister candidates of my country, who I see as Merkel’s pets,” he says of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Vangelis Meimarakis (“the one with the moustache”).
“What’s happening in my country has deprived people of their hope, their optimism and their smile – three things that are interwoven in Greek people,” he says. “I feel that there is no dignity or pride in my country, no independence or justice.”
The most controversial pieces Papadopoulos has made depict Golden Dawn, Greece’s extreme rightwing party, attacking a white dove and brains. “They can’t handle democratic or free expressions,” he explains.
Papadopoulos’s goal is threefold: to be funny, to criticise the government and to show the consequences of our actions. “As long as we think that only politicians are responsible for our misery, nothing will change,” he says.
Many see his art as symbols of political correctness, but Playmobil are not fans. The German company shut down his first fansite “on the grounds of trademark infringement and the ‘political’ use of their products,” says Papadopoulos. When he started a new site, they warned him that the same thing would happen if he didn’t remove the political content.
After negotiations, both his fansite and blog now host a disclaimer that his pictures are not owned, operated, sponsored or authorised by Playmobil. “I should have the right to use a toy that I’ve bought in any way I like without censorship,” says Papadopoulos. “Otherwise it’s like the pen’s inventor forbidding you to write.”
He still plays with the figurines at home with his son – though he sees them now, not just as toys, but as a powerful tool. “A Playmobil figure symbolises something pure and innocent,” says Papadopoulos. “When I put this innocent object in a cruel human scene, I want to remind people of that feeling we had as children, the feeling we’ve completely lost. My kids haven’t lost it – and I hope that when the time comes for them to understand reality, the reality will be more humane.”
by Nadja Sayej
Source: The Guardian