Panel Discussion: Haunting (Hi)Stories

Thu, October 7, 2010 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

(View all panel discussions »)

Presntation by Jean-Marie Casbarian, Aram Jibilian, Ruken Sengul, and Halide Velioglu, moderated by Amir Parsa

Free and Open to the Public

What do the contemporary stories of circumcision and lost kinships within the intersecting histories of Armenians and Kurds; the intimate life of the Serb/Yugoslav epic poetry among some Slavic Muslims of Bosnia; the encounters with the ghost of an artist from Van who committed suicide in Connecticut, and the massive rescue efforts of an American philanthropic institution in the Near East have in common?

The end of the 19th century witnessed the collapse of three empires that was accompanied with the formation of new nation-states. The cases of Armenian catastrophe, Kurdish insurgence, and war in Bosnia provide us rich insights about the consequences of the violent collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the remnants of its vast human-geography.

This panel uncovers the sensory and/or imaginary attachments to the images, voices, and (hi)stories that do not neatly fit into the existing taxonomies of nation-states, art-historical canons, and definitions of identities they compel. It brings into light notions of belonging, modalities of remembering, and sense of displacement that exceed the regimes of truth or dominant modes of knowledge production, which existing grammar of politics leaves out. In other words, Haunting (Hi)Stories is an archipelago of sensibilities that nest at the verge of remembering and forgetting, truth and fiction, real and imaginary.

Fourth in a series of public discussions Haunting (Hi)Stories is organized in conjunction with the Blind Dates Project. Co-curated by Defne Ayas and Neery Melkonian. The exhibition opens at Pratt Manhattan Gallery on November 19, 2010


Jean-Marie Casbarian
incorporates photography, film and video projections, sound, sculpture and performance into her artworks. She received her MFA from Milton Avery School of Art at Bard College in New York and along with a nomination for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, she has received a number of awards and artist residencies. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Currently, Jean-Marie is Chair of the Studio Arts Program at Transart Institute, a low-residency MFA program based in Berlin and New York City where she also teaches and mentors graduate students.

Aram Jibilian arrived in New York in 1998 to pursue a Masters of Art at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Art and Arts Education. In 2004, his work was selected by artists Jack Pierson and Cindy Sherman to be part of a group show of emerging artists that took place at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York City. This fall he will be exhibiting at the Pratt Manhattan Galleries as part of the Blind Dates Project. Aram currently works as the Director of Photography Archives at The Pace Gallery as he continues to exhibit throughout the city.

Amir Parsa is the author of Kobolierrot, Tractatüus Philosophiká-Poeticüus, the multilingual L’opéra minora, Feu L’encre – Fable, among other works. In 2006, Editions Caractères in Paris published three of his ‘atomic’ books, Dîvân, Sil & anses and Erre, and Drive-by Cannibalism in the Baroque Tradition was published in NY. His literary oeuvre – written in English, French and Persian – constitutes a radical polyphonic enterprise that puts into question national, cultural and aesthetic attachments while fashioning new genres, forms and even species of literary artifacts. Works have been read, performed, presented and debated in galleries and museums, in streets and on rooftops, at festivals and gatherings, in hiding and in broad daylight. As an educator and art theorist/practitioner, he has developed and implemented programs for diverse audiences at MoMA, and has lectured on a wide range of topics in modern and contemporary art at MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other museums and institutions across North America and around the world. He is currently the Director of the MoMA Alzheimer’s Project and a Visiting Associate Professor at Pratt Institute.

S. Ruken Sengul: Born in Diyarbakir, Turkey. After studying Political Science and International relations and Sociology in Turkey, she moved to the United States to extend her graduate studies in Cultural Anthropology. She joined the human rights movement in Turkey in the mid-1990 wherein she conducted extensive research and advocacy work on the Kurdish issue, forced displacement, freedom of expression and gendered violence. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, writing her dissertation tentatively entitled “Broken Histories inside Restored Walls: The Social Life of Kurdishness in Urban Diyarbakir”.

Halide Velioglu: Born in Macedonia, Yugoslavia. Daughter of a Bosnian family that migrated to Turkey in 1966, Velioglu attended medical school (Marmara University) and studied Sociology (Bogazici University) in Istanbul. Former member of the Bogazici Women Group and one of the founding editors of the bimonthly literature and culture periodical, Hayalet Gemi she is a Doctoral candidate of Anthropology (University of Texas at Austin) and has done an ethnographic research on the public sentiments and daily lives of Bosniaks in Sarajevo.


Aram Jibilian: Gorky and the Glass House: My Collaboration with a Ghost

For this panel, I will be discussing my project for Blind Dates which revolves around Arshile Gorky’s history at the Glass House, his home in Sherman, Connecticut. In a New York Times article published in 2003, the current owner and resident of the home, Martha Clarke, discussed how the ghost of Gorky continues to live with her. When I, my collaborator, Aaron Mattocks, and the curators of this project met Ms. Clarke, she again recounted numerous stories of when she and guests were visited by his ghost. These stories serve as the point of departure for my proposed series of photographs for Blind Dates. Playing with the idea of Gorky having lived his life in an in-between state of exile, I seek to capture what his current in-between state might be.

I will discuss the nature of my three main collaborations: with Mr. Mattocks, who portrays Gorky in the images, with Ms. Clarke, who denied and then granted access to certain elements of her home, and of course with Gorky whose haunting spirit is the driving force of the project. I will also give a brief presentation of my earlier works, and show how they formally and conceptually led me to working with Gorky. Gorky’s paintings and persona were created and viewed through layers of hidden truths and memories of a traumatic past; this captivates me.

In my recent work, including the Blind Dates Project, I use one of Gorky's well-known paintings, The Artist and His Mother, ca.1926-36, to create a mask that is worn by me, my partner, and others. The mask brings up questions about the nature of performance, covering, truth, deception, facade, and inner vs. outer worlds. It is a separation device and a defense mechanism, but also the point of connection as many viewers are familiar with this wonderfully haunting gaze. I will share images of other artists that also inspired me to create the mask for Gorky and to photograph staged moments of his life, real and imagined.

Ruken Sengul: Phallic Divinations

When asked once if the Armenians had any issues with the Kurds for their role in the genocide, Hrant Dink responded: “No. We have become kirve with the Kurds”. Why claim a kinship idiom to settle scores with regards to a most painful past?

Widely known throughout Eastern Anatolia and Southern Caucasus, kirvelik designated a complex institution of fictive kinship established though ritual exchanges related to circumcision, baptism or marriage. Not only had it developed through the cultural contiguity and osmosis among different ethno-religious communities of this border region, but it also provided an effective medium to facilitate cohabitation through the communal divide. The historical heteroglossia of kirvelik was violently destroyed during the past century of Turkish state making. First, non-Muslim histories of the institution were foreclosed by the reduction of its ritual base to the sponsoring of Islamic male circumcision and the enclosure of its cultural geography to a Turkified Eastern Anatolia. This newly unambiguous kirvelik - as circumcision sponsorship- was, then, systematically pursued by the Turkish republican bureaucracy as a kin-modality of citizen-making in the Kurdish region. In this process, the politico-cultural semantics of circumcision also transformed. It became a privileged marker of Turkish identity, patriotic loyalty and masculine competence, rendering an uncircumcised phallus ever the more abject –an ambiguous source of threat against social and symbolic security and order.

My presentation explores this conflict-ridden transformation of the semantics of kirvelik and circumcision in relation to the intersecting geographies of Armenian and Kurdish issues. I first look at the politics of kinship and circumcision that have involved in the making of Turkish nation-state sovereignty from the fin-de-siecle Armenian massacres up until the contemporary Kurdish rebellion. I, then, explore the recent public reclamations of the idiom of kirvelik by contemporary Armenians and Kurds, focusing on the lost or marginalized histories and knowledges of self, identity and belonging they claim vis-a-vis the past and the shared visions of future that they plea for.

Halide Veliogu: Captivating verses, quoted selves: the Serb/Yugoslav epic and Bosniak sentiments

The role epic poetry and its mythicized history had been playing in the Serb national consciousness for ages and especially in the preceding decade of the recent war in the former Yugoslavia have been widely discussed. In my talk, I will draw on the underestimated and mundane life of the Serb/Yugoslav epic poetry among some Slavic Muslims of Bosnia (Bosniak) that has escaped scholarly attention. This case study of an unframed and un-narrated habitual attachment to the epic poetry will broach Bosniaks’ residual yet still vibrant peculiar relationship with the Ottoman legacy, drama of constitutive otherness, and Yugoslav sensibilities.

Jean Marie Casbarian: (Under) Mining the Landscape: Reimagining the Near East Relief Archives

We look for clarity in the archive. In its storage bank of image and information, we dig for proof in what was possibly erased through the act of forgetting. We attempt to weave visual representations of the past with oral stories and accounts in the hopes to (re)create a truth. Memories are retold; photographs are recontextualized and reinterpreted. Recollections are diluted, storytellers die and truth (or fiction) as seen through the photograph and moving image, is suddenly up for debate.

For this talk, I will address my current project for the Blind Dates exhibition in which I explore the Near East Foundation (NEF), one of the first philanthropic organizations to enlist aid in the way of orphanages during the Armenian catastrophe of 1915—an archive housed at the Rockefeller Archive Center in New York. I have held a discreet curiosity towards the images of the orphans and the complicated relationship they endowed to the NEF. However, as my relationship grew with these photographs, I find most curious those images that are the most ambiguous, leaving a trail of questions that surround the underlying intention of one’s rescue—both in terms of those that are being rescued as well as those that are so deemed heroic in their relief efforts.

Along with my collaborator and historian, Nazan Maksudyan, an Armenian-Jew born and raised in Istanbul, I have set out to further complicate these notions. The enigmatic images of the archive coupled with the fragmented text of Nazan’s family mythology, creates a space that exists somewhere between what is remembered and what is forgotten. The repositories of fact and fiction that dictate the way we shape and mold our memory are solely based on the who and the when and the where of interpretation. “History,” as Nazan states, “is not about the past but about the present—we (inevitably) look back from where we stand—it’s always about our today.”

Last updated: 2010-09-27 19:46:05

Aram Jibilian; a detail from Gorky and the Glass House: My Collaboration with a Ghost, 2010
Aram Jibilian; a detail from Gorky and the Glass House: My Collaboration with a Ghost, 2010
Jean Marie Casbarian,  Detail from (Under)Mining the Landscape; Photograph of an American relief ship to Near East; Image Courtesy of Near East Foundation Archives and Rockefeller Research Center, New York
Jean Marie Casbarian, Detail from (Under)Mining the Landscape; Photograph of an American relief ship to Near East; Image Courtesy of Near East Foundation Archives and Rockefeller Research Center, New York

Alwan for the Arts

16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
(between Broad St. and Broadway)
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

Alwan Auction 2016

Join Our Mailing List:



Classes are currently being scheduled. Please check back soon for updates.



There are currently no upcoming events.


16 Beaver Street
4th Floor
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732 3261
Email Us

Alwan for the Arts is accessible to people with disabilities. Please call 646 732 3261 in advance, or, buzz at the door to arrange a ramp.

© 2020 Alwan for the Arts

Hosting donated by:, the Arabic Encyclopedia