The other night I attended Armenian-American artist Melissa Boyajian’s presentation at The Club restaurant on Tumanyan Poghots. My co-worker Hasmik interpreted the event, which showcased some of Melissa’s photography and short films. The first film was “Tip of the Tongue Phenomenon,” which depicted the close-up shot of a mouth. As the tongue was bound again and again with thin wire and yarn, the mouth attempts to speak. It was impossible to distinguish the words, of course, and as I watched I found myself becoming more and more fixated on the discomfort and pain I sensed from the screen as the wire grew tighter and tighter, eventually cutting off blood flow. This lasted what seemed like several minutes. I winced repeatedly, felt more and more uncomfortable as the film went on, and was even slightly grossed out at times. I kept anticipating the point when it would become too much to bear (as I am quite squeamish) and I would have to shift my gaze. But much to my surprise, I didn’t.
Boyajian made this film shortly after the murder of Hrant Dink, the prominent editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper “Agos.” Best known for advocating for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and human rights, he was assassinated in Istanbul in 2007 by a Turkish nationalist. This film was, indeed, a significant reminder to me about how the attempts by some to silence the voices of those who speak out for justice and peace are often too painful to bear. As someone who used to spend her workdays (and nights) trying to report honestly about homelessness, crime, and, at times murder, I firmly believe that freedom of speech and expression is an essential ingredient to a fair and open society and that those who speak out for reconciliation and peace should never be threatened. It was refreshing to see something reignite that belief in a new, different and uncomfortable way. All of Boyajian’s pieces were highly emotive. I found them to be very candid, thought provoking and complex as they challenged culture and gender roles as well as power dynamics. And it was wonderful to be able to take them all in at a café in Yerevan.