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The Artist Telling Greeks' Stories Through Playmobil Figures

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 5/11/2015 Eline Gordts
GREECE © Plasticobilism GREECE

ATHENS, Greece -- We ask how we should describe his work. Is it a form of socially committed art?

He says it isn't.

"But I recently realized that there is, in fact, a term which describes what I do. Although I don't know if it's art," says Nikos Papadopoulos, who's also known as Mr. Plasticobilism. "I read the term 'artivism,' art plus activism. So I said, yes, if there is something that describes what I do, it's this.”

Papadopoulos, 36, was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, and he initially worked as an astrophysicist, a remedial high school teacher and a scriptwriter. For the past two years, he has been using toys to challenge people to think about the woes of Greek society amid the financial crisis.

Instead of seeing Playmobil figures as firefighters, pirates, policemen and doctors, he transforms them into protagonists of Greek society. They re-enact events of everyday life, situations that cause distress and ideals that he believes should not be forgotten.

Papadopoulos has portrayed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble, who've played key roles in the European Union's handling of the financial crisis, as well as empty cash machines, extremist right-wing party Golden Dawn, the July referendum on the international bailout and the ongoing refugee crisis. 

But he also hasn't shied away from universal issues such as gender inequality, love and resistance against the establishment. 

Papadopoulos' toy figures aren't intended  to bring smiles to people's faces. Rather, his work is a product of the Greek crisis and serves as a "journal of a harsh reality."

“I am a happy father of two children, aged four years and six months, but I am also an unhappy Greek. Not because I am personally unhappy, on the contrary. But because there is misery around me. People suffer. We are all miserable when even one person next to us is miserable, as a society. Even if some people haven't realized it just yet,” he says. 

Papadopoulos says it all started one day at a mall in the city of Thessaloniki. He had taken his oldest son, who was just 1 at the time, to watch a Playmobil presentation.

“We took some of those toys with us. They were stiffer than the typical ones, because they are meant for kids. At night we were trying to put my son to bed. Although he wasn't in a position to understand exactly what I was doing, I made him a first representation of night sleep: Playmobil figures going home to sleep. I took a picture of that and uploaded it on Facebook. Then I got the idea of making more representations of images of my domestic life.”

Soon he no longer wanted to limit himself to personal and family moments. He expanded his representations to themes that were of particular concern to him: political issues as well as themes from everyday life like the financial crisis and the refugees.

Papadopoulos' collection of Playmobil figures isn't as big as one might think. The makeover of the figures is often simple, some clothes and hair. 

"The truth is that before the crisis I wasn't very political," Papadopoulos said. "Like so many others, I said all politicians are the same, discussed austerity a little, but nothing more. Everything is different now. What we demand of our politicians has grown, and the extremes are more intense. The things that touch us are many and the consequences of policies have become far graver.”

Papadopoulos “got off his couch,” as he says, and started talking to us through his Playmobil figures about all that annoys us, hurts us, outrages us and troubles us. He doesn't only want to find creative ways of expressing himself, but wants to mobilize people, to get them "off their couches," too, and show solidarity.

“In the evening, I think about everything that I have read, heard, seen throughout the day. What touched me, what is really eating me up. And then I think of a new representation.”

Even though he is a scriptwriter for a number of comedy series on Greek TV, he doesn't particularly use humor in his creations.

“I think I use satire on some representations, in the sense that I tell some truths that apply to all of us, in a sharp way," Papadopoulos says. "There is one rule, though, always. I don't want to make you laugh. The rules of satire require from us to criticize and compel the receiver of the satire to think. To stand, with our work, opposite power.

"When I just create something that makes people laugh, for example by ridiculing a political personality, then I just help them get it out of their system. And afterward, people move on. They don't stop to think. That's how each and every one of us becomes a supporter of this system, through inertia.”

Papadopoulos has made about 900 representations so far. We asked him to pick his favorite ones to be included here. One of the images is an emotionally charged one he made for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It shows a woman with a bruised face, who has fallen on the ground between the legs of a male abuser.

“I painted her face with water paint, to make the bruises," he says. "When I took the first picture I felt there was something powerful and true in this work. I knew what I wanted to say.”

Reactions to his work, mainly on Facebook where he counts more than 19,129 likes, are overall warm. But he has received critical and even threatening comments, too, mostly from Golden Dawn supporters.

Even the company itself, Playmobil, responded negatively. “At some point my page was blocked and I thought it was someone from Golden Dawn but it was Playmobil from Germany,” he says. In the end, he sorted things out by issuing a statement that said Playmobil was not responsible for the content of his representations. 

Of all the praise and interviews, the one that mattered most to him was a young Greek student living abroad who analyzed Papadopoulos' work in his postgraduate dissertation. 


This story originally appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated and edited for an international audience. 

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