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Inheritance Project | art and images beyond a silenced genocide

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Tina Bastajian

Bastajian Essay
When I embarked on a journey of exploring my family history and the Armenian Genocide through film, I had no idea of the labyrinth I was entering. This endeavor would inevitably become an evolving work in progress in my life and film work.

The title of my film, Jagadakeer… is an Armenian term meaning fate, destiny or literally, what is written on the forehead. My fate was to find a place, a space to explore issues of memory, nostalgia, absence and reconnection. Although my scope of the genocide and my family history were incomplete and myopic, I sought ways to understand and connect these fragments. I researched everything from geography, Diaspora, dream interpretation, shamanistic film, sound vibration, my Grandmother's oral history, and images such as my Auntie Baidzaar pinning an evil eye onto her bra – all which nurtured the multiplicity of my vision.

I traveled to Turkey in 1988. As an Armenian traversing this complex landscape, a deep longing and curiosity was sparked. Turkey being taboo to many Armenians as the place where our ancestral ghosts live, cloaked in silence and denial. This trip allowed me to locate the displacement and absence I had always felt.

In making Jagadakeer… I struggled to find my own voice amongst many voices. I grappled to interpret and imagine my grandmother's and great-grandmother's voices, but had neglected to nurture my own voice. During this time I became exiled from my film and cinema itself, making objects, writing poetry, and making a short video on Armenian xenophobia and coffee cup reading.

In Jagadakeer… between the near and east, I created stylized tableaus layered with real and imagined sites, both past and present. I envisioned form and content as intertwined components and used dislocation and the presence of absence as the film's structure. I literally used the edges of scenes and the "mistakes." By using gesture and nuance, I could demystify my original content shuttling backwards and forwards. These starts and stops like memory itself, make up a complex web of visuals and sounds evoking a sense of homeland, history and subject hood. The paradox of my subject matter was all at once true, false, ostracized, invented, longed for and denied.

Throughout the process of creating this work, the film's healing aspects and notions of transformation, and going beyond the Genocide was crucial to my development as an artist and Armenian. I struggled to give myself permission to make the film, however abstract, incomplete and non-linear. For example, how could I portray my mother's family crossing the Syrian Desert naked, and how they had shaved all the hair on their heads and bodies to deter rape, hiding their gold and valuables in their vaginas? My emphasis was on the potential of inhabiting states of awareness, finding the openness, fluidity and possibility of the space between, or the "beyond." My desire is to transport the viewer, as I believe our collective and personal experience hovers between and around the film frame, taking us to unnavigable spaces. And as the last line of the film reads,"…it's not on any map true places never are…" (Herman Melville).

Tina Bastajian
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