Ara Oshagan – “Traces of Identity”

On Oct. 10, AUA had the pleasure to host photographer Ara Oshagan. During the lecture he presented his works explaining the meaning and motivation behind them. The audience seemed quite interested as Oshagan went on talking about the various projects and illustrations he had created. Working mostly in documentary photography format, some of Oshagan’s successful works. as he himself noted, include “Traces of Identity”, “Father Land”, “The Shushi project”, “iwitness” and “The Beirut project”. The main aim of the projects is to represent the ideas of identity, community and displacement.

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“Traces of Identity”

The project is located in Los Angeles, California, USA, circling around lives of American-Armenians’ community in LA. The core purpose of the project, as Oshagan mentioned is to show that although having different backstories, all of these people have the same heritage, similar disruptions and complicated family history. The majority of the photos show everyday life family gatherings at their houses or churches, kids at school, or just them on the streets. Some of the photos that Oshagan particularly talked about with great passion were of of three guys in prison, a barber in Hollywood boulevard taking a shot and shops with Armenian signs.

“Father Land” was one of the most important ones for Oshagan since he worked on it along with his father. The photos were taken in different regions of Nagorno-Karabakh, ranging from usual life of locals depicting problems as poverty all the way to the frontline border with Azerbaijan. “This is the birth of a baby” said Ara while pointing at the picture of a newborn child, “which is so symbolic to be in a country that isn’t really born yet.”

In the photographs that were shot in houses of locals one could easily notice the unusual calm behavior of people living there. There was a photo of a kid pointing a real, however, not loaded gun to his father’s head while the latter was watching TV, thus showing the fact that there’s nothing odd for a gun to be present in any house and literally in anyone’s hand.

“The Shushi”

Shushi having been a city in war zone around 20 years ago still has many abandoned places. “When I saw these ruined buildings they immediately resembled the images of death,” said Oshagan after showing a short video of Shushi’s ruined buildings “those windows looked like black eyes. It was ugly. So I thought I wanted to make it alive. I took pictures of people in the region and places them on the windows to make it more alive. The project turned to be so loved by locals that they suggested improvements to the pictures in order to make it more artsy.”

“iwitness” is an installation work in Los Angeles dedicated to the Genocide survivors. It is a combination of 24 sculpture-like portraits and oral history in taking place LA city hall. The aim of the project was not only to bring hope, but also to inform the non-Armenian people about this. The project was very influential, and many following generations of the survivors gathered in that place that day.

“All these people would not exist without these survivors,” said Ara while showing the picture of the family next to their survivor grandparent.

Finally, the latest project that Ara worked on was “The Beirut project” which compared to the rest was a darker representation; it showed the identity throughout time and space. Streets and yards were the main photos of the place as well as a video of the New Year’s eve celebrated with joy despite the bad situation, and the presence of guns just like it was in Karabakh.

This inspirational and important for many people event left a lot to think about, especially related to identity and how we see identity. When the question: “Where is the Armenian identity headed?” was asked to Ara during the Q&A, he replied, “It is hard to say since there’s a mixture of different cultures and languages. But I guess the way to find out is to not be objective and be more with the community and try to find traces like these.”

 

Masha Babayan

 

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