“All my life I have been the secondary memory, somehow.” This is one way Istanbul-based artist Hera Büyüktaşçıyan describes herself; another is as a story-teller. For the purposes of her creative practice, she prefers this combined identity, for it enables her to channel the power of memory while also freeing her to play with the memory’s basic components, to isolate certain elements and boil it down to its signifying essence. “When you tell the story it’s not your story, it’s someone else’s story, so you don’t carry the responsibility of the whole thing,” she explains.
As a memory storage unit, Büyüktaşçıyan is the repository for an awful lot of pain. There is no way around this fact: coming from a family that is Greek on one side and Armenian on the other, her family history bears the imprint of the pain and terror suffered by Turkey’s minority populations throughout the twentieth century. Büyüktaşçıyan describes how, throughout her childhood, her Armenian grandmother and her grandmother’s best friends, a group of five women, would gather weekly and retell the same stories of their painful past, indelibly marked by their experience of the Armenian genocide. “From their childhood up until they died,” she recalls, “they would come together to have coffee. And every week, without exception, they used to share the same story with the same words, same sentences. This was really amazing me a lot. It’s not the story but the way they did the storytelling. It’s like it’s stuck in their mind, and the memory is a kind of instrument, which is playing non-stop in the mind.”