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Weaving Images: Textile, Displacement, and Reframing the Borders of Visual Culture

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An Armenian Mediterranean

Part of the book series: Mediterranean Perspectives ((MEPERS))


In this chapter Baronian illuminates how Armenian visual culture involves a wide range of forms and media beyond architecture, folk arts, and crafts. Therefore, she considers how Armenian visual culture—broadly defined—enables us to see and to penetrate many salient aspects of that culture and its legacy that would otherwise remain unseen. In this regard, Baronian challenges scholars to move beyond the iconic celebration of Armenia’s rich cultural heritage in order to disclose its plural signification beyond the Armenian territory, be it physical, affective, or imaginary. Finally, to tie the disparate threads of a heterogeneous visual culture together, this chapter introduces the idea of textile, both in a literal and figurative fashion. Textile, as an encompassing and versatile motif, constitutes and animates diasporic remembering practices.

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  1. 1.

    See for instance the anthropological and sociological studies conducted by, among others, Laurence Ritter, Kim Butler or Khachig Tölölyan.

  2. 2.

    For a detailed analysis of his multifaceted œuvre through the lens of memory, audiovisual media, and the Armenian Catastrophe see my Screening Memory: The Prosthetic Images of Atom Egoyan (Brussels: Belgian Royal Academy Publishing, 2017).

  3. 3.

    In another essay I have called this “auto-repetition.” For instance, Egoyan’s tendency to refer again and again to images of his own corpus expresses the filmmaker’s ongoing and overwhelming obsession with representing the history and memory of Armenian people in diaspora. Auto-citation, as I put it, relates to the denial of Armenian history, because by constantly reappearing in his various artistic creations, the citations manifest how deeply this history affects and concerns Egoyan. The citations appear as a transgenerational trauma, in which the denied violent past keeps returning. Auto-citation deftly discloses how repetition (thematically but also stylistically) has everything to do with the filmmaker’s historical and familial legacy. See my chapter “History and Memory, Repetition and Epistolarity,” in Image and Territory : Essays on Atom Egoyan, ed. M. Tschofen and J. Burwell (Waterloo: Wilfried Laurier University Press, 2007), 157–176.

  4. 4.

    It should be specified that Aurora was almost forced to star in the filmic adaptation of her memoir, literally making her relive the original trauma. She has to repeat, mimic and thus re-enact her traumatic experience. Aurora’s story, of slavery and enduring violence, constituted a “perfect” scenario for the big screen and she became a popular figure who had to oscillate, as it were, between reality and fiction and thereby displacing constantly her experience from various psychic states and locations.

  5. 5.

    For the genealogy of the different versions and states of the film Ravished Armenia (also known as Auction of Souls) that were found since 1994, see Donna-Lee Frieze’s essay “Three Films, One Genocide: Remembering the Armenian Genocide through Ravished Armenia(s),” in Remembering Genocide, ed. N. Eltringham and P. Maclean (New York : Routledge, 2014), 38–51. I should note that within the context of the 2015 centennial of the Armenian genocide, Aurora Mardiganian was widely presented as an important figure of survival. For instance, the Aurora Prize for humanitarian initiatives was launched, which, interestingly, resonates with the fact that Ravished Armenia was originally co-produced by the Near Eastern Relief and was utilized for charity and activist purposes.

  6. 6.

    Even if Egoyan clearly gives his own version of Aurora, the entire installation is based on a true moment of her life. Seven actresses are presented on seven different screens. Egoyan did so because during the promotional tour of the film in 1919, Aurora, who was supposed to be present at most screenings, suffered from a nervous breakdown and was then replaced by seven look-alikes. For a more detailed reading of that artwork see my book Screening Memory: The Prosthetic Images of Atom Egoyan (Brussels: Belgian Royal Academy Publishing, 2017).

  7. 7.

    For an overview of works produced by Garabedian (Syria, 1977) before 2011 see the catalogue that was published for a retrospective of his œuvre at the S.M.A.K (Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent). I have authored an essay for this catalogue entitled Something about Today (Ghent: S.M.A.K, 2011) and the last chapter of my book Mémoire et Image: Regards sur la Catastrophe arménienne (Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 2013) is fully dedicated to Garabedian’s multimedial art practices.

  8. 8.

    For a thorough analysis of Gorky’s œuvre see Kim Theriault’s book Rethinking Arshile Gorky (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2009).

  9. 9.

    M. Hirsch, Family Frames: Photograhy, Narrative and Postmemory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 22.

  10. 10.

    For a more extended discussion on the link between visual practices and denial, see my book Mémoire et Image: Regards sur la Catastrophe arménienne (Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 2013). An English translation is in preparation.

  11. 11.

    Not only is it located in Armenia (and present-day Turkey) but it also condenses various religious (e.g., Noah’s Ark) and cultural connotations since it is through Mount Ararat that the legend of Armenia has been built. It is definitely the most recurrent, if not clichéd, figure of Armenian (diasporic) culture.

  12. 12.

    I have elaborated on that concept in several publications, such as in Mémoire et Image: Regards sur la Catastrophe arménienne (2013), in the article “Image, Displacement, Prosthesis: Reflections on Making Visual Archives of the Armenian Genocide,” in Photographies 3, no. 2 (September 2010), 205–223. Or more recently in the book chapter “Missing Images: Textures of Memory in Diaspora,” in The Armenian Genocide Legacy, ed. A. Demerdjian (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 303–313.

  13. 13.

    Or to put it differently, unlike the Benjaminian concept of aura in the canonic “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), here these images become affective, sensible and meaningful in part because of their repetitive, massively reproduced, and ubiquitous nature.

  14. 14.

    For a more specific use of the concept of “archive” in relation to Egoyan, see my essay “Archive, Memory, and Loss” in Transnational Memory: Circulation, Articulation, Scales, ed. A. Rigney and Ch. de Cesari (Berlin, New York: De Gruyter /Media and Cultural Memory, 2014), 79–97.

  15. 15.

    See for example Tapis et textiles arméniens by R.H. Kevorkian and Berdj Achdjian (Marseille: La Maison Arménienne, 1991).

  16. 16.

    “Images-textiles et tissage d’objets,” L’Art Même, no. 67 (October 2015), 30–31.

  17. 17.

    In Mémoire et Image: Regards sur la Catastrophe arménienne (2013).

  18. 18.

    As textile historian Girogio Riello has put it, textile should be conceived of primarily as material culture wherein the objects (such as in fashion and clothes) bring with them personal and affective meanings. See “The Object of Fashion: Methodological Approaches to the History of Fashion,” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, no. 3, 2011. Doi : 10.2402/jac.v3i0.8865.

  19. 19.

    As Michael Pifer has pointed out to me, the codes and signs that are woven into old Armenian rugs are, ironically, largely “unreadable” to many people who own them today, including Armenians themselves. This is thus a significant example of the “textural” post-memory which has come to obscure the actual particularities and original facts of the object itself.

  20. 20.

    On this matter see the book Karine Arabian and Armenians in Fashion 17th–21st centuries, ed. S. Richoux, F. Müller, R. Kerterian, and J. Kehayan (Marseille: Marseille Fashion Museum and Somogy Art Publishers, 2007) that discloses, for example, how the professional field of textile, clothing, and fashion has provided (since the beginning of the twentieth century) work to many Armenian immigrants in France.

  21. 21.

    As in the films Sayat Nova (1969, renamed The Color of Pomegranates in 1971), Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), and Ashik Kerib (1988).

  22. 22.

    S. Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity and Difference, ed. K. Woodward (New York: Routledge, 1997), 53.

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Baronian, MA. (2018). Weaving Images: Textile, Displacement, and Reframing the Borders of Visual Culture. In: Babayan, K., Pifer, M. (eds) An Armenian Mediterranean. Mediterranean Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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