Our forefather’s memories as our own

Can other people’s memories become our own?

This is the open-ended question that local documentary photographer Alexia Makridou asked herself before confronting the narratives of refugees from Famagusta, which have become a big part of her own childhood memories – despite the fact that she was born post-1974.

Her most recent project, entitled ‘After-before’, is a documentary project that consists of archives of family photographs from Famagusta, interviews and portraits of refugees, images from personal belongings saved – all focusing on the engagement with the losses of the past.

“These events happened back in 1974, but their effects continue into the present,” explains Makridou, adding that it is through photographs that refugees can retrieve their past lives, memoirs about lost family histories, the popularity of root-seeking journeys and trauma.

Yet her interest focuses on the inherited memories that are dominated by narratives which preceded one’s birth or consciousness.

Bearing this in mind, the project attempts to explore the processes by which private memories of trauma are transmitted to second generation members, such as Makridou herself, and aims to investigate the insights that can be carried from the past to the newly challenging present.

Segregating the narratives of survivors and ‘receivers’, if you like, is of substance. And it is through quoting Polish American writer and academic Eva Hoffman that Makridou affirms the hereditary process of traumatic narratives. “The guardianship of the Holocaust is being passed on from its survivors and witnesses to the next generation.

The second generation is the hinge generation in which received, transferred knowledge of events is transmuted into history, or into myth,” writes Hoffman in her book ‘After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust’.

Post-memory is then described as the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before – to experiences they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviours among which they grew up, explains Makridou.

“However, post-memory is not identical to memory: it is ‘post’. At the same time, it approximates memory in its affective force and its psychic effects,” concludes Makridou.

A personal story to a whole generation

As a child of refugees from Varosha in the Famagusta region, Makridou was perhaps in a ‘better’ place to understand and get to the roots of impact of memories on the second generation: the post-war generation.

Initially, Makridou started off the project by conducting research on the topics of memory, trauma, identity formation, and family albums.

“My motive for choosing to conduct a project on Famagusta was basically following my instinct.

“My feelings about my family hometown are very strong. My family believes, for the past 40 years now, that we will return to our house soon,” reveals Makridou.

“How can you escape from a reality like this one?” she asks me. “I have been raised in Nicosia knowing that it is not our permanent city of residence,” continues Makridou as she admits that it is through the medium of photography that she was able to confront these collective remembrances, which she says have changed the way her family perceives life and have attempted to familiarise and adapt these as part of her own history and identity.

Embracing this notion then implies that these narratives are eternal imprints which haven’t solely marked Makridou, but a whole generation; a generation that is marked for life and perhaps needs to be relieved from the burden.

“Working for this project made me realise that the memories, experiences and stories of my family form a big part of my own childhood memories despite the fact that I was born in 1978, four years after the war,” explains Makridou.

“Research by the professor of comparative literature and gender studies at Columbia University, Marianne Hirsch, shows that memories of traumatic events live on to mark the lives of those who were not there to experience them… Memory is transmitted to be repeated and re-enacted,” continues Makridou.

“I realise that the story told by my family follows the master narrative of refugees: they were forced to abandon their homeland, their lost paradise.

“They yearn for reunification, but reunification is very difficult to achieve. Loss of family, home, of a sense of belonging and safety in the world, bleed from one generation to the next,” reflects Makridou

Using photography to recount memory

Besides recollecting stories and resurfacing objects which are reminiscent of the past, the photographic archive Makridou has been putting together lends a hand to not only resurfacing a past rhetoric but consequently retelling a story from a present standpoint.

“The photographs are a personal message from the past. As the family and group history is retold, it is preserved and enhanced. Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait chronicle of itself that bears witness to its connectedness,” explains Makridou.

Photography is the driving force: “Some authors claim that photographs are essential for remembering past events, since to remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture,” adds Makridou.
It is also through this visual approach that Makridou has acknowledged that her family retains strong feelings about the loss of their albums and personal photographs.

“They believe that part of their history as individuals is lost together with their photographs. Memory, like history, is rooted in archives. Society needs evidence of what their core values are and have been, where they have come from, and where they are going,” asserts Makridou.

“Photographic archives represent enormous power over collective memory and human identity.”

Hence, one of the initial goals of the project was the creation of an archive of family photographs from Famagusta as taken before 1974.

“In order to represent the transmission of traumatic memories visually, I decided to experiment with handmade collages and the double exposure technique using both my film camera and digital technologies,” explains Makridou.

“Working closely with the pain of my family and also with their hope and desire to return back to their homeland, through my work, I attempted to spin a yarn of nostalgia, homesickness and desire to return to our roots,” says Makridou.

Another aspect to the project is a publication which will hold the same title. Yet to be published, the book “is a handmade book that has only been printed in two copies at the moment.

It includes handwritten texts by family members, images from the archive before the war, photographs of personal belongings saved, collages, photographs that ‘connect’ the before and after,” reveals Makridou.

Truly, this project cannot be exhausted, because, as Makridou believes, people need to share their feelings of pain and desire to return.

“Many times, while doing this project, I thought of writing an article in a newspaper inviting people from Famagusta to attend an event and bring in their family photographs. In this way hidden pieces of the history of Famagusta will be revealed, a photographic archive of family photographs will be created and memories from a number of families from Famagusta will be documented,” envisions Makridou.

“This event could lead to an exhibition and to the creation of an archive of family photographs from Famagusta.”

“I am also interested to work further on representation of the body in pain and trauma via movement; an idea that I have already discussed with various choreographers and dancers in Cyprus.”

The face behind “After_before”

Alexia is a documentary photographer and researcher following single topics or stories in-depth over time. Her current areas of interest include issues of ‘memory and transmission’, with emphasis on how memories of events are transmitted from one generation to the other, ‘photography and trauma’ and the ways traumatic memory can be visually represented, ‘identity and loss’ with focus on the impact of family photo albums on the construction of one’s identity. Her portfolio includes projects exploring the relationship between the memory, senses and movement.

She has participated in a number of photographic exhibitions at a local and international basis and her work is published in magazines and journals worldwide.

In 2012, she was awarded by the International Federation of Photographic Art, the AFIAP distinction (Artiste FIAP). ‘After_Before’, a short-length documentary that deals with the issues of memories and experiences of three generations of women from a place of loss, represents Alexia’s latest work (2014).

Her recent studies include a Master’s degree (MA) in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from the University of Arts in London.

More information about the project, the book and Makridou’s work can be found on www.alexiamakridou.com

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