• Olivia Melkonian

Preserving History and Documenting the Present


Homegrown is a project of preservation. It is about reflecting on the past to inform the present. It is about exploring history and sustaining it, contributing to it and documenting it. It is about personal heritage and it is about the human race. It is about holding onto where we come from and building honest communities around us.


The term history can often seem daunting – my work aims to humanise it and approach it from a more personal angle. I’m interested in the little stories that help paint the larger picture. This type of work is imperative for communities like the Armenians; a small population from South West Asia, who faced one of the largest and still widely unrecognised genocides of modern history. Millions of Armenians were killed, starved, orphaned and displaced; countless documents were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands silenced in fear. The advance in technology has been particularly meaningful for Armenians, as archives and famous texts became digitised and available globally. These sources have substantially helped strengthen, re-write and sustain Armenian history in the twenty first century despite the millions displaced.


This project emerged partially out of fear that my family’s history would end within the coming generations. Paternally, what was once a long history of ancestry within the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, has been reduced to just two families living in the region (Syria and Lebanon), and the rest dispersed around the U.S., Canada and Europe – this blood line is thinning and beginning a new cycle in the West. While technological advancement has undoubtedly brought Armenians together and reunited loved ones, its role in capitalism has totally shifted our indigenous ways of being. From the way we source our food to the ways we build and sustain relationships – modern life is more fast paced and disconnected, and it often leaves valuable ways of being behind.


Heritage aside, I think that personal histories are important to document, however you chose to. Oral histories, as defined by the Oral History Association is “a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events.” The voice is a precious medium to use due to its sincerity, familiarity and also uniqueness – when people share stories they recall memories and they re-live experiences. They think back to a moment in time, they reflect and they share those experiences. It is a privilege to listen to these stories that contribute to their very existence; this is the everyday history of mankind. These are important elements in our own history that are reliant on us, the younger generation, to sustain. Memory never comes with a guarantee.


My sonic work relies highly on modern technology but my visual work stays traditional through the use of film. It’s the worlds new favourite aesthetic, but to me its simplicity is what strays me away from digital. I always shoot outside in daylight, so I don’t have to stress about many settings. I shoot spontaneously, so I don’t have any expectations and I shoot honestly – if a shot doesn’t resonate in my gut then it’s not worth my exposure. This leaves me with a unique collection of photographs. Each one is a moment in time that I was stopped, and drawn in by my surroundings. In a way, these photographic collections also tell my story. They are the places I’ve been, the streets I’ve ventured and the things that I have seen. They capture life, unplanned as it is, susceptible to change at any moment.


Oral histories require one to listen; to take themselves out of their personal experiences and try to place themselves in the mind of another. This is a practice that doesn’t develop overnight and always has room for improvement. In these unprecedented times in particular, we realise the importance of human connection and interaction. How we act in our relationships are the true reflection of self. In order to listen to another person, you must first be able to hear yourself. Each moment in life is unique. It is up to you to decide what you focus on and what you choose to neglect, a reflection of what you decide to remember and what you choose to forget.


Capturing and preserving these stories amongst communities living in the diaspora is particularly important. Our culture becomes something to protect, misunderstood by our surroundings and even more important to hold onto. It is passed down orally, distinguished in its dialect and narratives. If these stories do not survive, our perceptions of our own culture will change, and with societal development, a new one adopted as the traditional dies out. In Armenian culture, it is the responsibility of the women to retain stories and pass on traditions, but this responsibility should be extended to anybody able enough to take it. One can’t always rely on textbooks and search engines to find out about their history, the truth often lies within the family.


These projects are born through the connection that one day these elements will not look, stand or sound the same and how we value that importance. Preservation begins in the self, in the home. What we remember, how and why we adapt, what we reflect upon, what is important to us. This work encourages removal from the self and fluctuation between the past, the present and the future, neither of which should ever be taken for granted. These things are important to capture for your own sake – to remember who you are, to have stories and pictures to share with your grandchildren, and to equip the future generations with a more informed understanding of today’s society.


Written for IORI World (2020): https://iori.world/preserving-history-and-documenting-the-present/

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