The less heard, the less obvious.

Sarko Mutafyan’s Epicenters

Sarko Mutafyan - Then There Was Us

“I became quite dissociated from my surroundings, even when I used to call Bulgaria my home. As I was growing up I remember looking at other people and thinking how they had both nuclear and extended families, more close knit communities and much better understanding of the culture and society in which they belonged to. And that was always something that seemed to be missing for me.”

“The project ‘Epicenters’ became an attempt to piece together fragments from the many isolated stories I have heard about my family’s past, but had never known what was truly fact or fiction. To grapple with this sense of confusion and loss has been an interesting process, as it raised questions on where the foundation of a person’s identity lies. Is it in the cultural surroundings and the customs of the birthplace, in the storytelling and belonging to a family, or is it self-constructed?

As many distant relatives have traversed complex social and political movements, trying to escape their past and resettle into newer lands to build a new future, the process itself has required of them to abandon memories and stories that they had held onto, to move without the pain of emotional investment to a particular space. The project lives in between the lands of Armenia and Bulgaria and the traces of the main social, cultural and political hallmark events associated with their not so distant past. 

I travelled through the school I studied in, discovered distant family albums I had never seen at home, and visited the locations of their past that I had only heard about, all with the intention to ask the question, is there something left here that seems recognisable or personal? How come these relatives that I’m hearing about or seeing images of for the first time, have had full lives, only for them to disappear and take their stories with them for good, as if they never existed in the first place?

On the travels, there was an energy to the Bulgarian village of Krystevich, where my great grandparents met, one Bulgarian, the other Armenian, and that kept drawing me back, in the hopes that the land would reveal more clues the more I returned. The collective cultural and political trauma inflicted at the time was a main backdrop to their stories, looming over everyday lives. The monuments in the village stood as quiet witnesses of the events on that location, many of those events buried in more secrecy. From an attempt to piece together the past I was left with more pieces than the ones I had in the beginning, and the rights and stories of other people’s lives seemingly had disappeared in order to protect the future generations.”

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