Elizabeth Collier’s talk on Traumatic Art: The Visual Manifestation of Inherited Trauma in Contemporary Diasporan Armenian Art was a part of 6-lecture series on Armenian Culture, History, and Heritage organised by CAIA. Elizabeth summarised her talk for us which you can read below.
My talk on Sunday 11th March 2018 at Hayashen discussed the visual representation of inherited trauma in the modern and contemporary art of the Armenian diaspora.
I began by speaking about the status of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, and acknowledging the fact that the lack of recognition is probably why the event continues to be addressed by descendants of survivors more than 100 years later.
Before discussing the artwork, I spoke about the moment when Armenians first collectively used the word ‘Genocide’, in 1965, the same time as the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, when groups that had previously struggled to be heard first began to discover identity politics. I then spoke about the notion of trauma that included Lucian Freud’s idea of belatedness and Jacques Lacan’s suggestion of an act of passing on to others. In addition to this I discussed historical trauma: an event that has been recognised as traumatic by specific groups of people, which subsequently becomes part of its collective identity. I also acknowledged similarities to holocaust study and the idea of ‘post-memory’, where secondhand memories of holocaust survivors are adopted by their children.
The artwork discussed touched on the medium of photography acting as evidence, as well as an educational tool that transforms audiences into witnesses (Ara Oshagan and Levon Parian). I also spoke about the inclusion of children in artwork, which shows how orphans were affected (Sophia Gasparian). Then I discussed an Armenian sense of uprooted-ness (Krikor Momdjian and Jacques Aslanian), pain (Paul Guiragossian), and a sense of a fragmented identity (Tina Bastajian).
To juxtapose looking towards the past, I spoke about artists looking forward, in an act of healing. This part of the talk touched on the 2015 Venice Biennale. The artists who exhibited in the Armenian pavilion used their artwork to act as a method of reconciliation (Anna Boghiguian, Melik Ohanian and Sarkis). I also discussed the seemingly controversial display at the Turkish pavilion (Sarkis), where a publication about the show that mentioned the word Genocide was blocked. The main work was supposed to reflect shared experiences. This exhibition also showed an act of reconciliation from the opposite side. The artist positioned a model of a Venetian girl carrying an antique silver belt from Van between the two pavilions. Unfortunately images of the figure cannot be found and it may have been removed.
To conclude, I acknowledged that even the work in Venice was strongly centered on the Genocide and concluded that it is unlikely that this inherited trauma will disappear from Armenian art in the diaspora until the Genocide gains recognition. I finished by showing a film by Araz Farra, a young Armenian artist from London, whose work illustrates the identity of an Armenian man from Aleppo.