Vergine Gulbenkian

01/02/2013

The Postcolonial Speakers Series started with an Armenian storyteller. Words: James Walker


 

alt text

'Performing There Was And There Was Not' Photo: Jo Baele

 

The Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies at NTU launched the Centre’s new Postcolonial Speakers Series at the New Art Exchange on Thursday 30 January by celebrating the art of storytelling with an hour-long performance from traditional Armenian storyteller Vergine Gulbenkian which was followed by a conversation with Dr Jenni Ramone.

Vergine Gulbenkian gave a mesmerising performance, combining a series of traditional folk stories centred around 'State of Matter': 'a tale about burning, fuelled by a traditional 17th century love-epic Keeram and Asli which was told by Armenian and Turkish bards. She confided that she was unable to give away the ending as it was bad luck and could result in the storyteller being shot – a convenient excuse for writers block, perhaps although for Gulbenkian, the magic of storytelling is down to the interaction of the speaker and the audience. Leaving something to the imagination is all part of the alchemy and enables the audience greater connection with the subject.

Gulbenkian began working on the craft of telling traditional tales in 1991 after studying Drama and from here developed an interest in the Armenian oral tradition. In 1994 she made a documentary video with Richard Eayrs about the ashugh (epic singer) tradition in Armenia. She said “To share a traditional tale so that teller and audience are listening and living it moment by moment is a rare privilege. It is simple, but not easy." Part of her appeal is that she has a quiet voice which lulls you in. There are no sudden movements as she acts out parts of the narrative, instead she calmly stands on a chair or waves her hands. Then finishes her story with an Armenian ballad. If there had been a blanket at hand I would have snuggled up and been out in seconds.  

Jenni Ramone discussed the function of storytelling and the importance of oral culture with Gulbenkian and then opened the floor up to questions. It was an interesting debate until one academic said that the folk tales reinforced gender roles – or something similar. It was like watching someone stamp on a butterfly. It is a completely valid point to make but reducing culture to the same old anomalies is formulaic. Patriarchy is an ugly concept and it’s not too nice on the ears either. Say it out loud ten times and see what I mean. Tradition can be a dangerous form of power but in the context of a culture which has suffered mass genocide, these stories have a more magical function. They keep those people alive. They draw generations together. They lie dormant unless spoken. They should be felt rather than thought. 

It was a great start to the series and refreshing to see a performance as part of academic discussion. This might just be the way to create a more diverse audience at future events and make intellectual debate more accesible - and enjoyable.        

Some books you might like based on this talk

The Tiger’s Wife Téa Obreh. A beautiful layering of mythology and folklore which comes together to tell the history of the Balklands. An Orange prize winner in 2011.

The Pleasure of the Text Roland Barthes. Academic porn for anyone who believes a text's unity is forever being re-established by its composition, etc. 

Finding our Sea Legs: Experience and the Ocean of Stories Will Buckingham. An examination of philosophy and stories that will leave you waving, not drowning. 

Entertaining Strangers Jonathan Taylor  Drinking, philosophy and an eccentric intellectual called Edwin who is obsessed with a great fire, massacre and one girl's drowning in Smyrna, 75 years earlier. Gulbenkian mentioned the great Armenian fire in her stories.  

Out of Sheer Rage Geoff Dyer A work of genius. His comments on deconstructionism are legendary. A copy of this should be carried with you at all times and thrown at any academic  who forgets their humanity. 

You can hear Gulbenkian read an Inuit tale in which Raven is the only one who knows who stole the moon, and how to get it back.This was recorded at the Story Museum.

The Postcolonial Speakers Series is a partnership between NTU's School of Arts and Humanities, the New Art Exchange and Nottingham Contemporary. For more information on forthcoming talks in the series, please see their website.

Share this article



Ads by Google


Comments


comments powered by Disqus

Share Tools

Go to comments Read comments and make your own

LeftLion Magazine

Read our entire archive online

LeftLion Magazine
more info

LeftLion on Facebook

 

Most read this monthalt

  • LeftLion Magazine #60
    With Stuart Pearce, Shaun Derry, Sleaford Mods, Gallery 47, Lenton Flats, Soul Buggin', DiY, D'Israeli, Ross Noble and more...
  • Doing it for DiY
    Legendary Notts free-party collective DiY threw a 25th birthday at the weekend. At their expense. As ever. Then someone robbed them. LeftLion asks if you can help
  • Stuart Pearce
    "I don't think I could have finished my life without managing Nottingham Forest"
  • Brief history of Gunn Crime
    An overview of the criminal careers of Bestwood Cartel leaders and 'Godfathers' of Nottingham gang crime, Colin and David Gunn
  • LeftLion Kickstarter
    Help us to raise £10k on Kickstarter to take LeftLion Magazine monthly and bag yourself some money-can't-buy rewards in the process
  • Five Reasons Why Grandmaster Flash Changed The Game
    The man who introduced the medium of hip hop to the mainstream will grace the stage of Nottingham this Sunday at The Approach
  • Pick of the Week: 11 - 17 August
    LeftLion's handy guide to the dandy things going on in Nottingham over the next seven days
  • Just The Tonic at Edinburgh Fringe
    We followed round Nottingham's famous comedy club on their epic first week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
  • Pick of the Week: 4 - 10 August
    Look at all these pickings. There's so much to do that our brains are convulsing with joy
  • Pick of the Week: 18 - 24 August
    Superheroes, the Doctor, films in fields, musicians in luchador masks, dancing like muppets - yep, Nottingham has it covered

Event Listings alt

There aren't any tickets available for sale. view all events

Ads by Google