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Casbarian Essay
I examine the photograph of three old women standing on a porch step. They are olive-skinned, wearing black sweaters over black dress. My fingers silently dust the image, trying to break through decades upon decades of a history that lies halfway sleeping behind a thin layer of emulsion. I don't know who these women are. There are no penciled in names written on the back of the photograph to identify them. My father tells me that the woman, whose hands rest respectfully upon her matronly belly, was my great-grandmother. He does not speak of his history very much.

I struggle to make sense of being born into a culture that is quietly tucked away and hidden from me. All that's left are forgotten photographs of a forgotten people and a few stories about gold pieces buried in a front yard in Kharpert, Turkey. I passionately ask questions, but receive no more than sketchy answers. I was born an American of an Armenian father and a German mother — forget about it.

But when I look into my father's eyes, I see my own.

The impetus for my work has not been about being an Armenian. Rather, it has been a search for finding the connectedness to what I am not.

In my work, Hollows of Man, the photograph reacts as a record of memory; the pigment is its skin. The process plays out metaphorically as I apply and remove paint, allowing the ambiguities underneath to bleed through. The finished piece is never premeditated, but evolves of its own accord. The viewer is left unsure of what lies beneath the surface allowing the work to become a dialogue with unknown identities.

Language is yet another layer of that identity. In my search for definition, I began to integrate additional layers, adding crude translations of a tongue that I could not speak nor understand; weaving Armenian script with sheets of raw silk, gauze and rice paper windows. It is my intent for the audience to move in and around this piece, forming a link between the external and the internal, or what is spoken and what is left unsaid. The search for definition ceases and the word, regardless of its origin, is transformed into a silent passage. We are taken to a place of internalized cognizance that defies any interpretation — a place where language does not exist. It is only here, in this place, where I can gather the threads and begin to weave my ancestral cloth. The cloth that someday I, too, will wear.

Jean Marie Casbarian
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