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Inheritance Project | art and images beyond a silenced genocide
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Pridjian Essay
Growing up in pre multi-cultural America of the 1940's and 50's — the last child of Armenian immigrant parents — was a test of character for me, a shy, dark-eyed, dark-skinned little girl whose greatest wish was to wake up in the morning, blond, blue-eyed and out-going. My parents, both lucky enough to have emigrated from Turkey before the 1915 Genocide, embraced the United States whole heartedly but did not forget those of their relatives and friends who were not so lucky. Stories, hushed whispers, unexplained despair, depression and gloom were common in my early life. My old grandma in her black dress, stockings, scarf and men's slippers — muttering to herself while picking mulberries off the sidewalk — was a constant reminder of my unpopular ethnicity. I wanted to be American like everybody else.

Since art was always what I could do well, I enrolled in the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and found a world receptive to various ethnicities. This was the beginning of what I think of as my private archaeological dig for identity. Recurring periods of interest in human behavior, spirituality, ethnic and cultural issues have functioned as stepping-stones, high lighting as well as linking, the interior spaces within myself. The past 10 years have been somewhat of a treasure hunt, culminating in the acceptance of all that as a child, I tried so hard to deny. It is a relief to finally feel Armenian as well as American. These interests seeped into my work, but it was out of a deepening relationship with the natural world through my cats, that I became acutely aware of a counterpoint between survival and violence, first in animal behavior, and then in the human sphere. But the human equivalent, in my feminist view was not a balance of nature, but an imbalance, spawning unspeakable horrors of oppression alongside wondrous acts of courage — an ancient and terrible beauty. Given the markers and indices of my ethnic inheritance, this alliance of oppression and resistance feels deeply personal to me, and has inevitably become the unifying theme of my current body of work.

Working in three-dimensional, mixed media assemblage, I am conceptually concerned with the interplay between heart/mind experience and contemporary, cultural power structures typified in themes of power and powerlessness, oppression and resistance, life and death. Whether hand-held or wall mounted, boxes with obvious parameters function as safe containers for aspects of this human drama. Self-contained, intimate and interactive, these boxes are intended as personal reliquaries. A variety of found and made objects and materials, along with vibrant color and rich texture, combine to evoke personally felt response to universal conditions. This is a hallmark of my work, to which I refer euphemistically, as Trinket Boxes.

In addition to my work with boxes, wall pieces and artist books, is an interest in writing. I am currently working on an autobiographical account of my life as a first generation Armenian-American descendant of a little known, martyred people.

Naomi M. Pridjian
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