New York exhibition delves into memories of violence

Article by Rumeysa Kiger
Today’s Zaman
9 September 2015

A new exhibition titled “Collaborative Archives: Connective Histories” in a New York gallery looks at state-led violence around the world via examples.

Co-curated by Katherine Cohn and Işın Önol and on display until Sept. 18 at Columbia University’s Leroy Neiman Gallery, the exhibition is part of a project called “Women Mobilizing Memory,” which delves into politics of memory through gender and social difference with a group of artists, scholars and activists from the US, Chile, Argentina and Turkey.

Emphasizing the power of memory through which several traumatic events can be stored in individuals’ minds, the exhibition questions how these memories can be used to enable solidarity against different kinds of violence.

“Memories are the very fabric from which we are woven. They are intimate, bodily, internal. They enable us to perceive the world, build our coherent selves,” the curators write in the exhibition’s catalogue. “But they are also contained in the objects we touch, use and produce; they are mediated through public images and tropes. They can be shared, exchanged and transmitted in familial and communal settings. In the process and the aftermath of oppression, persecution, war and genocide, when personal coherence is threatened and intimacy evacuated, memories can weigh us down, repeating themselves in traumatic re-enactment.”

The exhibition seeks to answer whether memories of political violence and atrocity can become the occasion for solidarity across space and time.

The works in the show aim at uncovering state-sponsored violence through archives. “Whether creating an archive to document the history of the Kurdish population that has experienced mass displacement, or assembling the fragmented archive of a family that experienced homelessness for over a decade in the US, or documenting women’s protest actions in dictatorship Chile, or collecting testimonies of women whose husbands have forcibly disappeared in contemporary Turkey, these works juxtapose intimate experiences of loss with official memorial tropes in the media or in public imaginaries,” the curators explain.

One of the works in the show by artist and activist Aylin Tekiner centers on three important massacres that have taken place in Turkey and Syria during the past three decades: the Halabja massacre of 1988, a chemical attack that targeted Kurds in the area and killed around 5,000 and injured more than 9,000 people; the Sivas massacre of 1993, in which more than 35 people were killed when an ultraconservative mob set fire to a hotel where Alevi intellectuals had gathered; and the more recent Roboski (Uludere) airstrike of 2011, in which two Turkish military jets, acting on information that a group of terrorists was crossing the Iraqi-Turkish border, killed 34 civilian Kurds. Titled “Scent/Sorrow/Exile,” Tekiner’s work focuses on the “official” language through which these incidents are recounted in news reports and textbooks.

Another work from Turkey in the exhibition documents stories of women whose husbands disappeared under detention. According to a 2013 report by Hafıza Merkezi (the Center for Truth, Justice and Memory), 1,353 persons disappeared by forces directly or indirectly connected with the state since the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup. The work in the exhibition, a three-channel video installation titled “Holding up the Photograph,” presents intimate memories about these people.

Artist Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, whose works are also part of the show, looks at atrocities against Anatolian Armenians in 1915. The artist invited Armenian families who were forced to leave their home and properties, to weave an Anatolian carpet out of their photos. The stitched photos are a metaphor for a now non-existent possibility. A video of the performance accompanies the photographs, underlining the dynamic aspect of memory.

The exhibition also features work by artists Paz Errázuriz, Simone Leigh, Susan Meiselas, Lorie Novak and Kameelah Janan Rasheed.