Dame Gulizar and Other Love Stories, Rebecca Topakyan

Haig Topakian, my grand-father, arrived from Istanbul to Marseille in the 1920s, he never told his story nor the one of his family. Instead, the narrative that passed on through the generations was the love story of his parents, that is based in fairy tales and myth rather than reality. Hadji Garabed Kevork Topakian was the “king of basturma” in Constantinople, while Gulizar was a princess. Her parents would not allow such a marriage, so in the middle of the night he kidnapped her on his horse. While the Armenian characters of my family story are mostly men, present in photographs in many ways, Gulizar is a shadow figure with no apparent subjectivity. Almost 100 years later, I came to Armenia, where my grand-father had never been. Wondering about this identity, our common traits and differences, I impersonate a new Gulizar, giving her subjectivity and combining the family love stories from the past with some imagined love stories from today’s Armenia. “Dame Gulizar” is an intimate work about desire: the desire of a fantasized “motherland” that is more of a “fatherland” in my case, and also the desire for identity, are mixed with an erotic desire for the male Armenian body, reminding me in some aspects of the men of my family. In art or elsewhere, the woman’s body has been presented and defined by men as an object of desire and beauty. Thus, I reverse the dominant male gaze: it is men who become the objects of my desire, through the eyes of a new Gulizar owning her fantasies and her desire.

By Rebecca Topakian


Photos by Rebecca Topakian