Museum of Forgotten Belongings

Curated by Kamee Abrahamian Illustrated by Knar Hovakimyan

Our project is the Museum of Forgotten Belongings, an installation that collects and exhibits objects from our past or artifacts from ancestors that we have lost or don’t have in our possession (anymore). The plan is to circulate a call out and ask participants to submit to the collection by answering the following prompt: “What ancestral belongings, objects or artifacts have you lost? They can be precious, mundane, real or invented. You may have heard about them through family, or seen them in photographs, and so on. Give it a title, describe the materials, and tell us the story behind it.” We would then create illustrations of each object and curate them as though they were part of a museum exhibit.

Our intention with this project is to explore the spiritual and temporal qualities of physical/material belongings, and the sense of belonging they might evoke for both participants and audiences with their shared and respective ancestral lands, histories, and memory. This allows us to dream up stories of the places we have never been but still feel like we belong to. It invites us to imagine into the everyday lives of our ancestors that we are out of touch with, the histories and memories that feel fragmented or absent. By facilitating relationships with inaccessible objects, we are generating a new sense of belonging with all that which those objects represent.

Fabric Fragment from Ethiopian Priest’s Umbrella

Submitted by Astrig Agopian

Story: My grandmother’s dad’s job was to make the heavy velvet umbrellas that Ethiopian priests use. He lived in Addis. Unfortunately, when my family fled the country in the 70s, they were not able to take any of their belongings.
Material: A heavy umbrella made of purple velvet, with golden details on it.

Intact Amniotic Sac from Twins, Good Luck Charm

Submitted by Kamee Abrahamian

Story: Apparently when a baby is born in the caul (the babies come out in the amniotic sac intact) that sac is folded up/dried and used as a good luck charm. My great-grandmother had twins in the caul, which is even luckier, and they turned the sac into a good luck charm which was later borrowed by people in the village when they needed extra luck for whatever reason. My family had let someone borrow it when war broke out so they never got it back.
Material: Amniotic sac dried with salt and folded into a triangle shape, then sewed it into cloth.

Musalerian Bone Comb

Submitted by Maria Dermosessian

Object produced by my paternal grandfather, Hagop Der Movsessian
Story: My grandfather (born in 1902) learned the craft of comb-making in the village of Yoghunoluk in Musa Ler. He brought it with him to Syria then Lebanon and made these combs until he wasn’t able to anymore.
Material: Animal bones (likely to be camel), goat and bull horns, ivory.

Abacus Beads, Rod, and Fabric Scrap

Submitted by Ani Kalafian

Object produced by a neighboring Armenian woodworker
Story: My great Grandfather was from Van, Western Armenia. Before he and his family fled from the Genocide, he was in the business of business. Accounting, buying and selling properties, and at some point he became a tailor as well. The one tool that was useful for all his transactions as he was constantly counting money, was his abacus. Gone but not forgotten, a timeless tool of the ages.
Material: Wood, metal wire, and wooden beads.

Accounts Receivable Paper Scrap

Submitted by Anonymous

Object produced by Richard Deeran (formerly known as Dikran Deranian)
Story: My great grandfather Dikran came from Kesrik. His immigration papers said he was a gardener when he arrived in 1911. He ran a popular grocer in East Boston. 25K in accounts receivable when the Great Depression hit. Lost it all. His sons went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps. My grandfather Aram wouldn’t rely on invisible money – he kept his cash in a shoebox.
Material: Meticulous data on a ledger. Names of Italians and Armenians who lived nearby. Better data than a census because Dikran understood how to spell his fellow countrymen names. Compared to today’s spreadsheets, it looks like it could be scripture. I’ve read that our family was exiled from Van in 1066. They were known for illuminated manuscripts. The handwriting is art and has its own letterhead that resembles a commercialized illuminated manuscript. The American letters have flourishes echoing Armenian letters.

Pressed Flowers and Dried Plums from Verinshen Orchard

Submitted by Anonymous

Object produced by the Verdian Family
Story: My ancestral home was lost in the First NKR war, and with it, all the stories my grandmother told of her family home and orchard. Every time we’d bring plums home, my grandmother would look on wistfully, recalling her trees and the plums, the size of fists, that were now eaten by occupiers. So many things were lost but when she’d tell me about her village, the thing she’d most wanted to share with me one day, and the thing she missed most, was the orchard.
Material: Orchard flowers and red silk plums.

Cassette of Poetry

Submitted by Layla Feghali of River Rose Remembrance

Story: My father says he brought a cassette from Lebanon with him of my Jiddo’s (grandfather) orations of poetry. My cousin took it, and it has never been found since.
Material: A black cassette tape with concise handwritten markings of Arabic script. It documents spoken poems full of village life anecdotes and emotions.

Pressed Flowers from Lost Gardens

Submitted by Margaret Babayan

Object produced by my grandma with help from my grandpa, and the earth
Story: My dad’s family was Armenian and lived in Baku until they were forced to flee. The rumor goes that my grandparents jumped across balconies to escape, once the pogroms came to the city. They left behind their apartment and garden. My grandparents (barely) managed to start a new life on a plot of land outside of Moscow. My grandma replanted the garden, and my grandpa helped take care of it for decades to come. I imagine it as lush, fragrant, and peaceful. Still, my grandma would always talk about her garden in Baku, and before that, in Artsakh. After she died, my grandpa took care of the garden. My grandpa died recently, and I wonder if this garden will be lost, too.
Material: Their garden in Russia had a little swing and hammock. A patch of wild strawberries. Gooseberry, currant, and raspberry bushes. Cherry trees the birds would attack. Peonies and lily of the valley. Potatoes and their fragrant flowers out back. Lines of sweet peas. Herbs, dill and mint for tea. A greenhouse filled with bitter cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. A sunflower-lined fence, with a gate that led to a clearing and a forest.

Knar Hovakimyan is a multimedia artist who produces traditional paintings and drawings as well as digital and generative artwork. She was born in Armenia and currently works in Brooklyn, NY.

Kamee Abrahamian arrives is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, producer, performer, organizer, caregiver, queerdo, waitress, witch, and above all: a die-hard lover and teller of stories. They were born into an Armenian family displaced from the SWANA region and grew up in an immigrant suburb of Toronto. Their work is steeped with relational and generative practices oriented towards visionary futures and justice.