By Marianna Alepidis.
Born to an Armenian father and a Greek mother, Dr Marina Mkhitaryan-Lazaridou’s family roots go as deep as her ancestral histories.
She shares her identity and the make-up of these lands through her photographic endeavours.
“In spirit I am Romany, in heart I am Greek, in prayers Armenian, in mind I am a citizen of the world,” she told The Greek Herald.
Looking at her projects alone, you would have thought she grew up studying art. Instead, she completed her studies in Mathematical Physics, before receiving her PhD in 1993.
Perhaps more pervasive than her penchant for numbers was her passion for learning. In 1994 Marina found herself in Belgium, working on archaeological research at the University of Ghent, in Belgium.
Years later in 2007 she launched into a new passion; documentary style photography.
“I decided to use photography and creative writing in order to express my ideas to the fullest. It’s how I transfer my idea into reality, an idea is like a dream. And I am a dreamer,” she said.
“I’ll have an idea and sometimes I think, ‘is this even possible to execute?’ Then I remember the words of my mother, ‘Impossible is not in the Hellenic DNA.’ So when I capture these ideas on camera, I come home and I try to shape the universe of my emotions. And when I look at these photographs, they are a reflection of my ideas.”
While Marina was living in Armenia, she put together her first photography exhibition.
“I wanted to do something in loving memory of my Greek mother. Greeks have lived in Armenia since the 18th century, the Pontian Greeks. I travelled throughout Armenia, photographing the Greek settlements and graves and churches,” Marina said.
“I launched my first exhibition which is in permanent display at the Greek embassy in Yerevan. And the photograph of my mother and yiayia is part of this exhibition.”
More photo exhibitions would follow this one, but Marina would take a hiatus for a few years before launching into one of her more recent projects.
From 2017 she worked to protect cultural heritage in zones of conflict and war in the Netherlands and Cyprus, and soon transitioned into beginning her own journey launching programs related to peacebuilding and the “endangered Christians of the Middle East.”
Soon Marina returned to Armenia and registered her own non-governmental organisation (NGO), Action for Peace (Human Rights, Humanitarian Aid and Peacebuilding), and started her first project as part of it; Nostos: War, Identity and Peace: Dedicated to the Women of Artsakh.
“I interviewed 42 women and four men, in order to know the role of women in the conflict-ridden zones,” she said.
“I like the Greek word ‘nostos’ because it means homecoming, returning. Odysseus returned home by sea, our identity is in our home. Our refuge is everything.”
Marina, in her peacebuilding quest, dedicated another of her photography projects to the Greek, Armenian and Assyrian genocides.
“Through photography, I try to complete the mosaics of a story. For me, this project focused on the question ‘can memory trigger a genocide prevention?’. I was taking photos of survivors, interviewing their descendants, and they were sharing the archival family photos and their family’s exile stories. I understood that yes, we can prevent genocide because memory is a huge tool,” she explained.
“I visited the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus five or six times. It’s always very painful for me. I feel this international trauma. After completing this project dedicated to Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides, I couldn’t touch a camera for many years, because these narratives blocked my soul.”
Marina however persevered, bolstering herself into what she likes to call the “Hellenic inspiration period of [her] life.”
Earlier this year, she nurtured three photo artistic projects dedicated to Hellas; Greek Lullaby of My Childhood, Hellenic Bluezzz of My Soul, and Hellas: Created by God shot by Marina.
Each episode is its own reflection of various elements of Greece and the Greek experience.
“I chose the Hellenic experience because it’s very important to me. It is to my mother that I owe who I am. So, I’m very grateful to my Greek mother. This is something very holy to me,” she said.
“This trilogy may not seem to be connected in an obvious way, but they relate to Hellas, to the Greek identity and Greek origin. To be Greek is an inspiration.”
In Greek Lullaby of My Childhood, Marina combines photography and creative writing. This part of the series is dedicated to the Smyrna centennial, taking the audience into the life of a fictional young girl named ‘Charoula’. Charoula’s mother was born in Smyrna and witnessed the tragedies of 1922.
Charoula’s story is a mosaic inspired by the real experiences of the dark days from those times. Marina creates metaphors through her photography of the old doors and abandoned old houses in Serres, much like the ones she believes Charoula and her mother would have lived in.
“When I stand in front of the old, abandoned houses, I feel that their doors speak to me. They keep the memory of those who lived there, their peaceful evenings and daily life,” Marina said.
Hellenic Bluezzz of My Soul follows the theme of Marina’s creative spirit, dedicating this piece to prominent Greek musical figures Maria Callas, Nana Mouskouri, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Konstantinos Kavafis.
It melds together her love of these legendary Greek musicians who sung their own version of the blues, and the beautiful blue vastness of Greece itself, with its cosiness of the various provinces and villagers’ philoxenia.
In the final of the three-part series, Hellas: Created by God shot by Marina, the photographer incorporates the Greek ideology of Orthodoxy and thinks about the eternal and philosophical values of modern civilisation.
With her work on the trilogy complete, Marina has also completed her next project with the help of the Municipality of Serres; Enigma of an icon: A window to heaven.
“This project is very important to me because I believe that Hellas without Orthodoxy is not Hellas, and Hellenic inspiration without Orthodoxy is not complete,” she said.
“For now, my goal is to open a series of exhibitions dedicated to Hellas: Created by God shown by Marina.”
You can view Dr Marina Mkhitaryan-Lazaridou’s three-part series and find out more about her work here.