Reflections of a Collective Memory
Reflections of a Collective Memory reflects and explores how a community constructs its identity when it is built on a common memory. Through a series of black and white portraits, a story unfolds of these immigrants of Armenian descent who currently live in the Greater New York Area. Though my subjects are from different stages in life and styles of living, they all share a memory of the Armenian Genocide that happened almost a century ago.
Telling this story in black and white, this body of work highlights how the memory of the Armenian Genocide is reflected in many areas of the Armenian community’s life today. The viewer is invited to witness the effects of a painful past and how it can reflect its shadow on the present. And yet, observe as well the notable expressions through painting and dance that capture this unique collective identity as it continues to grow in vibrancy from world-wide denial of the genocide.
Of Armenian descent myself and a recent immigrant to New York City, I was curious how this event might have shaped this community here. I discovered that it is very present in the community’s artwork, scholarly work, and even many day-to-day activities that the community maintains till this day, and strove to record this with this series.
After a Century... they Reflect
At the age of 6, what she remembers is how males over the age of 15 in her village were taken and never came back, including her 2 uncles.
Her grandfather sensed that something was about to happen to the Armenian people and therefore, decided to send his son to America to work and build a secure future for his family.
When the genocide started, her father was already abroad, while her mother worked as a maid for a rich Turkish family. This saved both of them. Later they escaped to Beirut, Lebanon.
She stayed for more than a year in an Orphanage in Beirut, until her father was able to bring his family to New York City around the early 1920s.
Walking for long miles through the desert, escaping persecutions by the ruling Yong Turks.
Today what she mostly remembers how great and caring her mother was throughout this painful journey.
Her mother always promised her; this will be over we will be free, walk a little more and we will find comfort and happiness again.
Eventually they arrived to Beirut, Lebanon. Her mother worked as a nurse in an orphanage for almost 2 years.
In the early 1920s the family moved to New York and started a new life.
Birthplace: Palu, Turkey
Birthplace: Nikhda, Turkey
Julia, watching a traditional Armenian Dancing performance with the residents of the Armenian Nursing Home in Flushing, Queens.
A young Armenian dancer herself, Julia was showing the elderly one of her performances that was held at an event in New York City.
Dancing is indeed a very celebrated part of Armenian tradition and is regarded by many an activity that brings the community together.
Historical records show that Armenian dance has the most ancient origins in the world. From the 5th to the 3rd millennia B.C. many rock paintings were found with scenes of country dancing.
Today, one of the activities that bring the Armenian community together is traditional dancing. It could be a way of unconscious reconnection with the past, or it is simply a way of getting young people together.
The Armenian identity is depicted through the characterization of its dance. The dancers, costumes, and music often generate a story telling scene with a strong emotional expression.
To Armenians dancing is reflecting on the past and constructing the present identity of the Armenian community. An identity that is inseparable of the memory of the genocide.
Performances and concerts are held occasionally. Many love to watch the young performers dancing on very traditional Armenian songs.
There are numerous popular dancing groups in the greater New York area and most likely in any other American city with significant Armenian presence.
Shushi, young dancers performing on Easter.
Saint Vartan Church in New York City.
Every Friday rehearsals take place in Tenafly, New Jersey, where young girls who form The Shushi Dancing Ensemble get ready for upcoming performances and event in different parts of the city as well as in other countries with signficance Armenian presence.
Shushi Dancing Ensemble is a widely known dancing ensemble among Armenians in the Greater New York City Area and even in many countries around the world, with significant Armenian presence, such as Lebanon, Syria and Argentina.
Raele back stage getting ready for a performance that was taking place in Hackensack, where young girls and boys from Shushi were perfomring different dancing ensembles.
Art in its own way tries to understand and heal what cannot be addressed through tribunals only. In this case tribunals are absent from history and replaced with denial that often accompanies those painful memories.
The Armenian Genocide had a great impact on Armenian art. This impact was and still represented in various mediums, from painting to singing and so forth.
The following series is about Armenian Artists in New York City, whose work addresses the memory of the Genocide.
I am a Descendant
Kevork Murad, a New York based painter. His Armenian-Syrian background is overshadowing his latest work.
Anias Tekerian, a New York based singer. Revives old and traditional Armenian songs singing with her band "Zulal".
Aram Jibelian, New York based photographer. His latest work deals with the idea of living in exile and denial.
Nora Armani, New York based actress and director. Her latest work deals with relocating, moving and traumatic experiences.
Nishan Kazazian, New York based architect and artist. Memory and identity is always reflected in his artwork.
A large number of Armenian thinkers, scholars and politicians dedicated their lives, researching, writing and raising awareness about the Armenian Genocide. These efforts are more exacerbated by the denial, rather than the genocide itself.
Instead of dealing with grief, soon the Armenian struggle became a cause for recognition. Denial certainly shaped this struggle in a different way and became a central issue in the literature of any topic dealing with the Armenian Genocide.
The process of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide is indeed one of the top priorities of most Armenian politicians and thinkers. For the most part, the struggle for recognition will never stop as long as denial is the only answer.
The issue of denial is not only driving scholarly efforts, but it is also a key influencer for maintain the Armenian identity across generations.
Claire Kedeshian, Musician and Lawyer. Reconnecting with the past and the roots ... through "Heritage Tourism"
Anny Bakalian a scholar and writer. The image on the screen is a photo of an abandoned church since 1915, taken during her last visit to Turkey.
Dennis Papazian founder of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
On the 97th memory of the Armenian Genocide, Dennis speaks about ways of reaching the younger Turkish generation, through translating Armenian history books to Turkish.
Ruth Thomasian is the founder of Project Save in Boston, MA. Her project is about collecting archival images, even before the genocide, from historical Armenia. The project also documents Armenians in the Diaspora, mainly in North America.
For many years, Hirant Gulian served as chairman for the Knights of Vartan Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee. Times Square closes twice per year, once on New Year's Eve and once on April 24th where hundreds of Armenians commemorate the memory of the Genocide
One of the first demonstration in Times Square in memory of the Armenian Genocide asking for recognition
For more on this project, see the book on blurb