THE USC INSTITUTE OF ARMENIAN STUDIES presents a one-of-a-kind installation of extremely rare postcards from Anatolia, displayed alongside scenes from many of the same locations captured a century later.
Undeliverable: Postcards and Photos of Lives Interrupted, revolves around 160 original printed sepia tones, some of which have never been exhibited before, hand-picked from the world’s largest collection of Ottoman postcards. Illustrating the everyday lives of Armenians in cities, towns and villages, these pictorial souvenirs would be banal had their subjects not been exterminated by near-total genocide.
Collected over 32 years by Istanbul-based businessman Orlando Carlo Calumeno, the 80,000 unique postcards, all printed between 1895 and 1921, belong to a larger collection of books, furnishings and printed ephemera documenting quotidian life in multicultural, multilingual, turn-of-the century Anatolia.
Undeliverable is presented on two floors, in multiple parts, spanning the Doheny Library’s Treasure Room, Rotunda and Arts Corridor.
Working closely with USC Institute of Armenian Studies director Salpi Ghazarian curated 160 vintage postcards displayed in vitrines on the ground level, alongside documentary-style black-and-white images taken by Norair Chahinian.
As a counterpoint to the vintage postcards, the contemporary work of photographer Norair Chahinian explores his own Armenian roots. Drawn from two books of his photography, Armenia (2008) and The Power of Emptiness (2012), they include images captured using an antique camera owned by Chahinian’s grandfather, an Anatolian refugee who operated a photo studio in Aleppo, Syria, before joining the Armenian diaspora in São Paulo.
The Treasure Room installation focuses on 10 of the most intriguing postcards, that have been scanned, enlarged and presented in three-dimensional dioramas. Standing at eye-level on tripods, each diorama box invites visitors to peer into a lost world through a time-bending tower viewer. On the surrounding walls and ceiling full-scale photo murals of Chahinian’s bleak architectural photography illustrating modern Anatolia’s abandoned spaces, including a dilapidated Armenian church dome looming overhead.