Blind Dates Project



Blind Dates aims to tackle with the traces or ‘what remains’ of the peoples, places and cultures that once constituted the diverse geography of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922). Taking the breakup of the latter’s complex history as a point of departure, and considering the subsequent formation of nation states throughout the region, the exhibition is an attempt to explore the effects of various forms of ruptures, gaps, erasures as well as (re)constructions, including continuities within discontinuities, through the prism of contemporary lived-experiences. Diasporas or transnational cultural cartographies that offer non conventional temporal and spatial configurations are also of particular interest to Blind Dates.

As an interdisciplinary and cross cultural curatorial undertaking Blind Dates has been working with artists, intellectuals and cultural producers interested in deconstructing master narratives to give agency a chance, or to extend new ‘ways of seeing’ contentious historical accounts/events and their lingering effects on life today. Prompted by the belief that the formation of conscientious and conscience communities is contingent upon new ways of knowledge production/dissemination, Blind Dates instigates dialogue to foster research-based artistic projects. By pairing artists and non artists for a series of private/informal discussions project co-curators Defne Ayas and Neery Melkonian have been ‘matchmaking’ to mediate encounters between distanced neighbors and their estranged cultures. The exhibition will be based on collaborations stemming from these critical encounters with the “Other” or engagement with ‘otherness.’

General topics for deliberation, and not necessarily in the suggested order, include:
Catastrophes, trauma and memory; Mourning, longing and denial; Displacement, collective identity and subjectivity; Exile, migration, and diasporic clusters; Archives, translation and language; Humor, rumor and folklore; History, ideology and globalization; Mythology, religion and philosophy; Fact, fiction and truth; Natural, artificial and superficial; Taboo, shame and desire; Love, romance and betrayal; Obsession, compassion and care; Borders, citizenship and human rights; Justice, reconciliation and forgiveness; Fragility, temperament and passion, Art Histories, modernization, and artistic systems.

With the conviction that creative people can play a crucial role in helping societies imagine new communities, established and emerging artists who work in various media internationally are invited to submit collaborative proposals. While only a number of the proposed projects can be actualized, the exhibition will include all the submitted proposals. The final selection will be the outcome of deliberations between the curators and the artists.

To date several Blind Dates Encounters have taken place, others are in progress. These encounters occur in cafes, around dinner tables at homes usually hosted by Friends of Blind Dates, or on a stroll in the streets, parks and waterfronts of cities like New York, Los Angeles, Istanbul, Shanghai, Yerevan, Van and Venice.

Revised March 2009


The concept for Blind Dates was developed by Defne Ayas and Neery Melkonian upon the invitation of Dr. Ani Kalayjian in late 2005. We were asked to submit a proposal for an exhibition by Armenian and Turkish artists to ‘envision a better future’ that would help foster dialogue toward reconciling historical barriers between the two cultures. A volunteer committee of kindred spirits comprised of non art-professionals, whose primarily role was to raise awareness and funds, would materialize the exhibition under the provisional fiscal sponsorship of ATOP.

Cognizant of the contextual underpinning of the requested exhibition, we submitted a comprehensive proposal for a project that would: be the outcome of research and artistic collaborations based on actual encounters; cultivate rigorous intellectual engagement through a series of private and public discussions in conjunction with the making of the exhibition, and offer a corresponding publication informed by the curatorial process.

Despite good intentions and some progress made on social fronts, the project remained in limbo after three years of anticipation. In December 2008, followed by deliberations to produce a yet to be defined publication only, a consensus vote was reached for the project to proceed as an independent curatorial undertaking. This freed us from constraints associated with building an organization that was in-formation parallel with the development of the project, aka C.R.E.A.T.E., and despite repeated lack of a collective will to bring matters to fruition. The committee was reformulated as ‘Friends of Blind Dates’ and as agreed we continue to reach out to them, as well as to those who have since joined us, for advice or assistance as need be.

A revised curatorial premise that takes the breakup of the Ottoman Empire’s complex history as a point of departure, encompasses its diverse geography and considers the lingering effects of related ruptures on contemporary life, was submitted by co-curator Neery Melkonian to Pratt in March 2009. Both the project narrative and its programmatic evolution as outlined on this website owe much to the respective visions of the participating artists and to Pratt Institute’s commitment. Given the pressures and obstacles that come with uncharted projects such as this, particularly in the North American context, as co-curators we could not have persevered without their encouragement and belief in us.

We remain mindful of the individuals involved at this project’s outset namely: Dr. Kalayjian, Mr. Kaan Nazli, Ms. Joyce Reilly and Professor Kumru Toktamis. Their efforts helped us realize the necessity for new beginnings.

Defne Ayas and Neery Melkonian
Revised May 2010

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