Anas Aljajeh (27) is from Damascus, Syria, where he studied interior design until the Syrian civil war interrupted his education. He arrived in Austria in autumn 2015, and has been granted asylum. Today, he is living in a shared apartment in Vienna and taking care of the son of fellow Green light participant Ibrahim Mawazini, who is working full time as a mechanic. Anas is currently looking for a job so that he could bring his fiancée to Vienna.
TBA21: The first day of the project, what was your first impression back then?
Anas: I remember that I was very happy about the artworks, the handcrafted aspect of the project, and the recycling—everything that I’m interested in could be found in this project. So, I was very happy because that’s my world. The first feeling I remember was that I was very happy and very hopeful.
TBA21: You just said you found your world, right? What is your world?
Anas: [laughing] Everything that includes art, handmade things, recycling, making something from nothing. You know what I mean?
TBA21: The idea of the Green light workshop was to produce art and bring people together. What do you think about this premise?
Anas: Actually, producing art is a very important task, since it can give you new experiences and a new set of skills. And it’s good to meet new people from different countries, because you will get to know each other’s ideas. You will be sharing your ideas, you will be sharing your culture, and you will be learning a new culture. So I think it is a positive point in Green light.
TBA21: Could you define any problems within the conception of the workshop? What do you think made it easier to share and collaborate on the production of the artworks? What do you think didn’t work so well?
Anas: I think most things worked out fine—cooking together, eating together, sitting, talking. But the work itself, when we were working as a team, could sometimes get complicated, because not all the members of the team were working on the same level, you know? One person would make three lamps per day and three other people together make only one lamp a day. It created some complications.
TBA21: Was there some kind of competition? What was the atmosphere within the group like?
Anas: Generally, it was a very friendly and very lovely situation. I didn’t feel stressed, nobody was nervous and nobody was angry.
TBA21: Going back to the Green light itself: Anas, as an interior designer, what do you think about the design?
Anas: It’s very creative, maybe a bit strange. I think as an art piece it’s perfect, there is nothing to change.
TBA21: It’s just perfect?
Anas: Yes. [Both laughing]
TBA21: Did you meet some interesting people? Was it hard to become part of the group and how did you manage to find your own personal way into the project?
Anas: Almost all the people I met were interesting. I generally like to work in a group. But in Green light I found that I actually preferred to work a little bit by myself. Because I preferred to improve, to make more lamps every day, which I could do that better if I worked alone. I’ll give you an example: sometimes, I didn’t think the preparation of the wooden sticks was perfect. So I would have to redo them to my standards. Because I knew how to do it the way I wanted it to be. So that the lamps I made were perfect in my eyes, by my standards. I wanted to keep my standards.
TBA21: What did this mean to you back then, do you remember? To have the opportunity to build an art piece by yourself and by your highest possible standards?
Anas: It meant everything to me. Because I am not used to being unproductive, I’m not used to being unemployed. I always worked, even when I was in university, or back when I was in school. I always used to be productive and active.
TBA21: Why do you think it is so important for people—or for you—to be productive?
Anas: For me, if I want to be a creative person, I can’t do it through the hands of other people. I must do it with my own hands to get ideas. Sharpening my ideas, my skills, it’s not something I can do it with another person’s hands. I must do it with my own hands to get the perfect result I want.
TBA21: So what do you think about the situation where so many people applying for asylum are not allowed to work, that they don’t have the chance to sharpen their skills, to be productive with their own hands?
Anas: Well, you are allowed to work—just not for money. I think it’s important to find places like this, where you create infrastructure, where people come together with ideas, people who want to work and sharpen their skills. By now, there are other places like this. It’s important to let people work and let them realize their ideas and improve their skills. With this work, they will learn German, like we did here. That way, when they get their papers, they will be more prepared: they will have both a new skill and a good understanding of German.
TBA21: Was there anything that didn’t work at Green light?
Anas: I think there were some negative things, it wasn’t always perfect. The problem with translation was there, since on the one hand we had work connecting us, but we still always needed language. You need good translators. If you can’t communicate to someone else the full idea in all its clarity, then they won’t understand what is happening.
TBA21: Thank you. That is indeed an important aspect, to get the translation right. Translation also does have a lot of meanings: there is translation between languages, and I also feel it’s a translation of ideas. Do you feel like this is a “Western” project, or, if we put it another way, do you think it’s difficult to translate the idea to people from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan?
Anas: I think it’s not difficult because it’s not a very strange idea to Arab people. It’s simple materials.
TBA21: Of course, and it must seem especially simple for you as an interior designer. I mean more like the Shared learning workshops, which sometimes felt like an artist would come with all these questions, but when we tried to interact, it was difficult. Because the artist would probably not be able to convey what they really meant, not for lack of words, but on a conceptual level.
Anas: Maybe there were strange ideas for some people, but not the project itself as a whole. Maybe someone would say: “What is this?” Or wouldn't understand the idea, why it had to be designed that way. What the meaning of it would be. Maybe someone wouldn’t understand.
TBA21: Do you think the project could be universal? That it could go to different places and succeed there?
Anas: Of course. It’s not a strange idea. Maybe it will be strange for some people, but for the most part, it’s not that different: anybody anywhere can learn it and can do it. It’s not a problem.
TBA21: What do you think, what does one need in order to be a Green light participant, to be here and feel comfortable?
Anas: First you need to believe in this project and in this idea and to love it, to like what you do. That’s the most important thing, because if you don’t like what you do, you won’t be doing it well.
TBA21: What skills do you think you needed for making the project successful, for getting the best out for yourself?
Anas: For assembling and for making the Green light lamps, you don't need many skills, because it’s simple. You just need to pay attention when you learn it the first time and then it will be fine. For the other parts, you have to be social, to be able to be with the other people. I think that’s the most important, to be social.
This interview was conducted by Clemens Rettenbacher on November 29, 2016.