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Inheritance Project | art and images beyond a silenced genocide

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Inheritance: Art and Images Beyond a Silenced Genocide, is the collected effort of nine diversely different Armenian-American artists. Although strangers to each other, there is consonance in their experience as inheritors of an enormous, unacknowledged tragedy that took place more than 85 years ago in Ottoman Turkey. What holds this group of artists together is a spirit, or consciousness, that speaks to the heart and mind — above political rhetoric and academic theorizing — as a presentation to be seen, heard and felt.

An ancient people, Armenians have long suffered domination by more powerful nations. The Turkish pogroms of the 1890's and the Genocide of 1915-23, that killed 1.5 million of the 2 million Armenians in Turkey, forced many Armenians into Diaspora in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. There, they formed Armenian communities while willingly adapting to the expectations of the hosting nation.

The experiences of these survivors were too often unbearably horrific. In their effort to survive and begin anew in a world that did not acknowledge the source of their sufferings, their stories became anecdotes, passionately guarded and judiciously voiced. Eventually they became folklore, and to some, hearsay. Their children did not read about them in history class or storybooks. Until recently, their children grew up in a world that asked: "What is an Armenian? Where is Armenia?"… a world that didn't know that the first genocide of the 20th century was perpetrated on Armenians — the first people as a world nation to have adopted Christianity 1,700 years ago.

This exhibition deals with inter-generational transmission of trauma, resulting from the silencing, both globally and personally, of the traumatizing event. The survivors did their best to spare their children the agony of the past. "It's too sad", they would say. Despite the silence, we were not spared. Something leaked through … some intangible thing that defines and shapes a people. Perhaps it is a collective conscience … there whether you want it or not … there because it is there, audibly or inaudibly in a look, a word, or an attitude …

Among these nine artists something familiar, some ancient thread of being flows, winding in and through each work — be it passion, spirit or consciousness. Each seems to have an inherited heartbeat differing in rhythm, yet similar in tone and congruent in texture. It is the intention of each artist to bring a facet of experience to the whole for the purpose of transforming silence into sound and thereby assisting in stopping the process of historical erasure. The circumstances of the Armenian people bear strong enough resemblance to many of the national tragedies preceding it, as well as those, many in number, which followed in the 20th century. In that respect, the story has a relevance and universality that can reach beyond the Genocide, intra-culturally and cross-culturally, beyond the specific and on toward what we now call human rights.

Naomi M. Pridjian
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