Displaced, Un-placed, Re-placed:
Armenian Archives and Archival Imaginaries in the US

Co-author: Anne J. Gilliland
Cover of the Genocide survivor and filmmaker Michael Hagopian’s film, Strangers in a Promised Land about the Armenians in Fresno, 1984 Copyright: Berge Bulbulian Archives © Henry Madden Library, Fresno.
Drawing upon the multilayered experience of the Armenian community in the US following the Armenian Genocide, this chapter proposes approaching the concept of displaced archives in terms of the affect and materiality of collections, particularly of photographs, that have been preserved by families across generations in the diaspora. It argues that such displaced family archives transmute after displacement into an affective and visual experience — an archival imaginary — that reminds community members today, and subsequent generations, of what is lost, irretrievable or unknown. It also introduces the archaeological concept of “negative evidence” to underscore the evidentiary importance of archival voids relating to Genocide and displacement. In concluding, it proposes actions that could be taken by the archival field, in addition to ongoing scholarly, legal and policy work, to elevate the evidentiary importance of voids in archival collections and knowledge, to uncover additional knowledge of what happened during and after the Genocide, and to render at least some “impossible archival imaginaries” possible.

In James Lowry, ed., Displaced Archives Volume 2 (Routledge, 2022).

Speculative Classification: Tracing a Disputed Portrait Between
The Archives of Malvina Hoffman and Sergey Merkurov
Sergey Merkurov, Khrimyan Hayrik (the first death mask), plaster cast, 1907, Sergey Merkurov Museum, Gyumri, Armenia. © Sergey Merkurov’s House Museum.

This paper presents a case study that illustrates how porous the bond is between two different epistemological regimes: the emphasis that is placed on visuality in art historical collections, and the act of labeling by the archive. I will touch upon collections representing two sculptors, Malvina Hoffman (1885–1966) and Sergey Merkurov (1881–1952), who both passed through the studio of Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). In this case the slippage is the assigning of an incorrect or at least misleading keyword or ‘tag’ of one portrait in Hoffman’s archives at the Special Collections of the Getty Research Institute. Intended as part of The Races of Mankind project, in the archive the portrait is titled “Armenian Jew.” That initial title, as well as the current archival description and the lineage invoked through the title, have all been left open and in dispute. As such, the unresolved status of this portrait emerges as an anomaly in Hoffman’s archive that tests the limits of her logic of physiognomy and facial character. My research shows that due to this mistag, the portrait has a direct reference to a completely different work of Hoffman. This invites in turn another reading that sees a provocative physiognomic resemblance with Merkurov’s first death mask. Read Full Text.

Hovhannisyan, Marianna. “Speculative classification: Tracing a disputed portrait between the archives of Malvina Hoffman and Sergey Merkurov.” InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies 15, no. 2, 2019.

A Book Review
3rd Floor, Happening: Hail to the Union of Artists from the Netherworld. Performance at the Artists’ Union, 1988. Source: The Political Aesthetics of the Armenian Avant-Garde: The Journey of the ‘Painterly Real’, 1987-2004. Published with the permission of Angela Harutyunyan.
The Political Aesthetics of the Armenian Avant-Garde: The Journey of the ‘Painterly Real,’ 1987–2004 is by Angela Harutyunyan, art historian and associate professor in the Department of Fine Arts and Art History at the American University of Beirut. The book introduces Harutyunyan’s ongoing contribution to the body of work in art history and criticism which aims to historicize the advent of contemporary art in Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.Based on her decade-long archival research and fieldwork, this is the first English-language attempt at a cohesive art historical account of Armenian contemporary art. Methodologically, Harutyunyan has taken on an ambitious task: “to eject the subjectivity of the author from the historical narration, to un-remember a decade formative for my [her] generation, in order to re-remember it as history.” Read Full Text. 

Hovhannisyan, Marianna. “Book Review: Angela Harutyunyan, The Political Aesthetics of the Armenian Avant-Garde: The Journey of the ‘Painterly Real,’ 1987–2004.” FIELD 10 (Spring, 2018).

Empty Fields Exhibition E-pub
Tulipa brachyanthera Freyn. nov. spec. Manissadjian. Plantae orientales, No. 1151 Amassia, Galatia Determ. J.Freyn, received on July 29, 1896.© Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle–Paris, Herbier National.
This e-publication brings together visual and textual materials associated with the exhibition Empty Fields, curated by Marianna Hovhannisyan in 2016 (April 6–June 5) at SALT Galata, İstanbul. Empty Fields is the first exhibition to explore the archive of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The project is made possible through the partnership of SALT—which has been cataloging and digitizing the archive—and the American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT), the archive’s caretaker and owner. This vast repository contains materials about Protestant mission work in the Ottoman Empire and its further development in Turkey. The exhibition reflects on the contemporary agency of the available content by uncovering the dispersed natural science collection at the mission-led Museum of Anatolia College and forgotten legacy of its curator, Armenian-German scientist Prof. Johannes “John” Jacob Manissadjian.

Commissioned authors: Hrach Bayadyan, Beverley Butler, Hans-Lukas Kieser, Özgür Sevgi Göral, Nazan Maksudyan, Armen T. Marsoobian, Marc Nichanian, and Zeynep Türkyılmaz.

On Empty Fields
Installation view: “Narrating the Museological Space of Empty Fields” section. Exhibition design: Fareed Armaly.  Photo: Mustafa Hazneci. Empty Fields, SALT Galata, Istanbul, 2016.
Empty Fields exhibition sets its orientation through the insights offered by my research into the archives of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Turkey. The depictions of such archives conventionally suggest the display of a static, organized repository of a ‘past’ indexed by records and artifacts, as if akin to memory. At the same time, within the archives (particularly one of different languages) it is possible to discover the dynamics of a recalcitrant space of gaps, omissions, and degrees of incompleteness and to recognize them as the main narrative to follow. To bridge or fill in what is lacking, the research path must at points be exploratory, drawing upon different fields of enquiry, disciplines or categories of knowledge. By doing so, these gaps or absences within the specialized historical archives, in their records and artifacts, offer meeting points, if not the structural foundations from which to observe in turn, the researcher’s/practitioner’s own knowledge base that is informed by a sense of community and identity, in this case Armenian.

Archive-Practice curatorial project
The seal of EX-VOTO, the first private gallery in Yerevan. Contributor of the artifact: art historian, founder of the gallery, Nazareth Karoyan, 2009.
Archive-Practice is a research-based curatorial project (2008-ongoing), which focuses on curating a contemporary art collection as an archaeological set of relations, in which a collection of artifacts and interviews with artists takes the form of “a book that doesn’t exist yet, set within a dialogue that does.” The project works with past initiatives by Armenian artists/curators who established alternative creative practices and institutions through the 1990s, in the early stages of independent/post-Soviet Armenia. I have produced a series of audio/video interviews with artists and selected subject-related artifacts to form the collection that serves as the project core, thus activating the contemporary state of now-absent past initiatives—failed, forgotten, and fragmented. Through this unregistered history, the project opens up a new space of enquiry and methodology, where the collection becomes a record of “unfinishedness” attached to the project of identity of the post-Soviet neoliberal state of Armenia, and the ways these “absences” are matched by “unattended objects”—the markers of artistic practices. Read a sample interview with artist Grigor Khachatryan, 2010.

Hovhannisyan, Marianna. “Archive-Practice.” Qalqalah  2 (Winter, 2016).Paris: Bétonsalon – Center for Art and Research Kadist Art Foundation.

Dog Ta(i)les
Dog Ta(i)les is a speculative writing rendering a specific nonhuman perspective by taking hold of an artefact, a stray dog’s tail, that designates belonging to a non-human state. It views the subject of “everybody” by its component form, “everybody,” set in an urban condition. Dog Ta(i)les questions whether the universal assumed “everybody” within Andy Merrifield’s revolutionary vision and critique of neoliberal citizenship limits the framework and excludes “the potential outsider other” of whom the urban condition also relates. As Judith Butler states “when we claim to know and to present ourselves, we will fail in some ways…”

The body-text is created as bodyless writing by mapping “tails” from different bodies of research—encounters with theoretical texts and arguments—that acknowledge the straying points of the “other” in the discourse of “everybody.” Read Full Text.

Hovhannisyan, Marianna. “Dog Ta(i)les.” Here Comes Everybody. London: Goldsmiths, University of London. 2014. Project publication.