A photo-documentary project by Nazik Armenakyan, 2005-2015

Sargis Muradyan Gallery, Yerevan

Curated by Vigen Galstyan

Ten years in the making, ‘Survivors’ is an ambitious photographic narrative about surviving victims of the Armenian genocide, which includes portraits, interior scenes, witness testimonies and archival photographs. The project shows the significance of photography in forging an understanding of 1915 and its impact on individual identities.

The project began as a single portrait assignment while Armenakyan was completing a photo-documentary course at the Caucasus Media Institute in 2005. She would quickly go on to establish a successful career as one of the most highly regarded photojournalists working in Armenia. But the overwhelming reaction to that first photograph - Remella Amlikyan’s portrait – encouraged Armenakyan to develop this project further. In a 2015 interview, the photographer explained that it was important for her ‘to show that these people… were not immortal, even if they had lived a hundred years and still continued to live because they have a message. I understood that having kept their message silent for all these years, they were waiting for something.’ Eventually, Armenakyan managed to record forty-five survivors still living in Armenia.

Seemingly straightforward, Armenakyan’s photographs are not mere portraits. They attempt the complex task of bridging the events of 1915 to our own reality through the figure of the survivor. ‘How else could you show the Catastrophe’, asks Marc Nichanian in his introduction to the book that accompanies this exhibition,

՜… except to show the picture as a relic and to turn each face into its own image, thus transforming it into the face of a real survivor, rather than the face of just anybody, a random portrait? Of course, it is possible to show many things… even the endless terror can be captured… But that is not the way in which the Catastrophe will ever appear. That is not how it will be captured. Unless the picture shows the image as a relic… The survivor is the witness who has forever been transformed into the image of herself.՜

Rather than re-constructing the unimaginable image of the genocide, Armenakyan’s project revives – through the viewer’s participation – the very image that the genocide attempted to obliterate. House interiors with old photos, everyday objects, and family members. These ordinary things make us who we are and constitute our sense of humanity. This is also what we normally take for granted and Armenakyan’s project reveals its preciousness and the tragedy of its loss.

The photographs in ‘Survivors’ are not a memento mori, but a form of storytelling. They turn us into witnesses who must, a hundred years later, see, listen and find some form of redemption by giving these victims back the dignity of individual identity that was once erased. These portraits show faces that had seen the unimaginable. Like relics, they remind us of our responsibility to preserve the memory of that which should never be repeated.

The exhibition is among the State Commission events dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

The exhibition funded by Mr. Ashot Khachaturyants