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Inheritance Project | art and images beyond a silenced genocide
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Shahbazian Essay
The history of the Armenian tragedy was kept alive in my parents' home by the presence of an orphaned relative whose first hand experience with the Genocide reverberated throughout our house in her haunting stories. Her sadness and suffering became part of our lives as we shared a home together. My maternal grandfather, being a physician in the town, was spared his life. He had studied in the U.S. and had acquired American citizenship. He provided services to the American and British ambassadors and their families. The Turkish authorities could not deport him because of his citizenship. This helped save his life and the life of his family. After all the Armenians had left the town, he decided to take his family out of Turkey. In 1924, they left by boat to settle in Lebanon. My father's family was similarly spared. My father's aunt was married to a prominent physician who asked the Turkish authorities to spare the life of his family members. The Turks employed the family in factories so they would not be suspect. They later smuggled them out of Turkey by train. My father's family arrived in Aleppo In 1920.

Having gotten my education in an American college in Beirut, the allure of America was irresistible to me. The exposure to American culture and its freedom of thought prompted my coming to the United States from Lebanon, alone, at the age of 25. Here, I came face to face with my insecurities and loneliness. Growing up with the tragic story of the Armenians so close to home, perhaps deeply affected me at the subconscious level where I carried the vulnerability of our people and myself. In addition, I was confronted by the insecurities arising from being in a new country with a different culture. I met and married my husband in the United States, made a life with him and raised two children. During this time, some of my insecurities became deeply buried. Years later, when I attended art school, I met my spiritual guide and was slowly led to face up to all that was inside my being. My curiosity about who I was and where I was going was deeply sensitized by my teacher's thoughts and words. I began my search for truth and reality and knew that my work would be the instrument to teach me. Every piece I made revealed something. My thirst for growth has led me and continues to fuel my work.

I want to characterize my work as the instrument of discovery and understanding. In the early phase of this body of work I use the bronze container to symbolize our being, or the self. These containers hold intimate objects within, each suggesting a narrative. These stories are shared universally and they speak of discovery. Many of the works contain elements of gold symbolizing truth. In the following phase, comes the breaking up of the box and moving beyond the container, into the flowering of the self. The nature of this work is more organic because it contains visible change and movement. Each piece contains a process within — the process of becoming.

The last phase of this work is about pure being — that place of seeing and knowing, of silence and strength, of peace, bliss, brilliance and radiance, beauty and love. It is a state of perfection and balance. I see this new work as being celebratory in nature having arrived at a place of understanding and acquiring wisdom through experience.

Eileen Shabazian
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