Oshagan employs photography, film, collage and installation to present a layered and multidisciplinary vision: knitting a narrative that intertwines documentary with the imaginary, text with image, fact with speculation, personal with collective history. How The World Might Be entangles past-present-future and imagines the possibility of what was and what might or might not be.
The Shushi Portraits
In November 2020, the indigenous Armenian region of Artsakh was violently invaded and recolonized by the imperialist state of Azerbaijan. Shushi, a historically majority Armenian city and the cultural center of the region, is now devoid of any indigenous inhabitants and occupied by a foreign state.
The Shushi Portraits respond to the re-colonization of Artsakh. They portray former residents of Shushi photographed in 2012 for the Shushi Art Project who are now in exile. They foreground pages from ancient Armenian illuminated manuscripts from the Armenian highlands that span centuries. The work imagines an arc of invisible history connecting the two: the ancient codex and embedded narrative recontextualizing the deracinated present, keeping aloft a community, regenerating the indigenous moment.
Beirut Memory Project
Exploring his interest in vernacular imagery, memory and narrative, Oshagan’s “Beirut Memory Project” imagines an image-based intervention to cross a historical divide.
Oshagan was displaced by the Lebanese civil war as a youth: an event that created a deeply personal and communal rupture in his life. The Beirut Memory Project is an image-based speculation that straddles this rupture. It disrupts the fabric of the present-day (photographs in black and white) with images of pre-war family and community (in color). Structurally, the work is seen from today while embedding in that present what came before: a construction that looks back across a divide, across decades of rupture, absence, war, memory and loss. How to reconcile, how to mend? How to cross an abyss of absence and fracture? It seeks to construct a speculative bridge, questioning the arc of time and history that connects linear and disrupted narratives.
The Artsakh Scrolls
The Artsakh Scrolls imagine a possible future for Artsakh: a community now colonized and violently uprooted from its indigenous lands. The scrolls collect the scattered fragments of this community into a panorama of life and possibility.
Inspired by Asian narrative forms and prayer/magic Medieval Armenian scrolls, they are constructed from fragmented cutouts of residents of Artsakh from Oshagan’s photographs from Artsakh between 1999 and 2007. The scroll backgrounds are pages from Oshagan’s grandfather Hagop Oshagan’s notebooks—a novelist who was himself exiled from his homeland by the Armenian Genocide in 1915. The scrolls create a space that connects past catastrophes to the present. Contextualized by this history of genocide and violence, the scrolls also speak to a cyclical process of history that ebbs and flows where resistance and decolonization are still possibilities. They celebrate indigenous strength and resilience against the overwhelming power and violence of the colonizer.
Interrogating diasporic memory, multigenerational displacement, and the ambiguities of narrative, “displaced” is a unique collaboration between photographer Ara Oshagan and author Krikor Beledian. Oshagan and Beledian grew up in Beirut’s Armenian communities that were formed by refugees and survivors of genocide. They came of age in families and neighborhoods fraught with the collective memory of extreme violence and dispossession. Both left Beirut decades ago and now return to reexamine the protean urbanscape with this original work: Oshagan with his dark and lyrical photographs and Beledian with his poetic semiautobiographical essay set during his youth. Symbiotic and linked in (in)visible ways, “displaced” is deeply personal and set mostly in Beirut’s dense Armenian enclave of Bourj Hammoud.
For the past several decades author Krikor Beledian has created an unprecedented body of literary work about the Armenian diasporic communities in Beirut, written exclusively in Western Armenian. This installation is an ode to this effort and a monument to the future unvanishing of the language. It imagines a structure created for the language that can sustain it, nourish it and elevate it into the future.
Comprised of Beledian’s handwriting of the first few pages from “displaced”, the installation is an immersive experience that connects the audience with the author’s hand and its millennial script. An embodiment and enveloping of the word as written by one of its ultimate modern practitioners. It imagines a future with an ancient form: inspired by medieval scribes who similarly created illuminated scrolls, manuscripts and codex as monuments to their faith and script.
but for the happenstance of history
The Western Armenian language, ripped apart by genocide and uprooted from its indigenous lands, has existed only in the diaspora for over 100 years. During this time, its communities have been continually battered by further instability, war and generational displacement. It is spoken and written by a handful of diasporic communities but few, if any, are able to sustain it. It is now on the United Nations’ endangered languages list, on the verge of extinction. Beirut is one of Western Armenian’s last bastions.
This film is a speculative, fragmented and layered exploration of the contours and rhythms of this language. An attempt to gather its fragments, to reconnect them it through image and sound. Image as language, image as dialect, tenuous language as image. It is researched and imaged in the small neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud in Beirut.