The Faces of Armenian Art

One of the reasons why you should visit Armenia is to encounter its rich arts and culture. To discover them, you don’t have to travel far around the city of Yerevan.

Statues will greet you from roundabouts and roadsides. Walk along an outdoor museum at the Art Vernissage (a French word meaning “market”), and you’ll meet painters who showcase and sell their art. Also, you can watch charcoal painters and spray paint artists work in the midst of Northern Avenue’s foot traffic.

But to visit an art exhibit is an entirely different experience.

My Armenian friend, Amalia, who is the daughter of sculptor Misak Melkonyan, invited my family and our friends to attend the Tekeyan Cultural Association’s annual awards ceremony and exhibition two weeks ago on May 23, 2017.

As we reached the Tekeyan Cultural Centre, we climbed up to the second floor and directly found ourselves in the exhibit hall.

Paintings and sculptures lined the walls and columns, while the lights, interior, and impending summer heat created a warm atmosphere.

armenian-cocktails

The appealing hors d’oeuvres table was in the centre of the room, while drinks were next to the windows.

Everybody was in the next hall for the ceremony. There, a huge crowd sat and watched a respected artist speak from the front.

Armenian faces.

Grigor Khatchatryan – the winner in the theatre nomination for his “Unbidden Ann” performance.

The pretty host.

Beside the speaker was a jazz band. Among the ensemble were guitars, drums, saxes, trumpets, cellos, violins, and a keyboard. I mistook them for a quarter of an orchestra!

Strain that note!

It was my first time to hear jazz lyrics in Armenian.

The chairs were all filled, so we had to join the people standing at the back.

Casually standing with my friends Araks (left) and Amalia (right).

As I observed the crowd, Amalia pointed out several celebrities and well-known artists in the audience.

The Armenian Minister of the Diaspora, Hranush Hakobyan. She’s the longest-serving woman in the National Assembly of Armenia.

At the side were several videographers and photographers, as well as a reporter in a red dress who kept walking past us. Amalia explained that this event would be covered in the news the day after.

She also translated the Armenian speeches for me, and added that the art awards committee wanted to recognise more younger artists than older artists this year.

mikayel-harutyunyan-speech

She then gave the example of a 19 year-old painter named Mikayel Harutyunyan.

After she identified the man who walked up to the podium as Professor Hravard Hakobyan – chair of the art awards committee – she translated bits of what he said about Mikayel, since he was about to be awarded after the speech.

Apparently, when Mr. Hakobyan first saw Mikayel’s paintings, he couldn’t believe that Mikayel actually painted them, and assumed that someone else painted them for him.

But as he watched him paint, he finally believed that Mikayel was really the true genius behind the works.

Mikayel Harutyunyan with Prof. Hravard Hakobyan at his side.

I was so impressed! I couldn’t wait to meet him and see all the works outside.

After the band’s final piece, the ceremony concluded and people flooded out from the meeting hall. They crowded the exhibit and converged at the cocktail table to grab a bite and find someone to chat with.

While squeezing myself between people, I surveyed the art.

The collection was diverse in terms of the styles and media used. It was enjoyable because it evoked strong emotions and celebrated the Armenian love of culture and family.

The Exhibit, from my Perspective

1. “Banants Mother (Gardman) by Martiros Badalyan. 100×80 canvas/gesso

This, in my opinion, is the artwork that stood out among the rest.

The old woman’s face pops out startlingly from its background of crowded houses, which was inspired by the artist’s village of Banants in Karabakh (a region in Azerbaijan which is ethnically Armenian).

The brown tones communicate nostalgia, while the woman’s shrivelled appearance and bark texture express sadness.

The process he used to make this painting perplexes me. I’d never heard of gesso (pronounced “jesso“) before, so I Googled it up and came up with this hypothesis:

Gesso (a paint mixture which is applied to, say, a canvas, in order to prevent the surface from sucking up the medium) was first applied to the canvas. Next, the artist carved the subject matter onto the gesso – then let it dry. After, he spread paint on it. I can’t account for the bark texture, though.

If you have a better idea, then, please write it in the comments! I’m not that well-versed in art yet, so I’d love to hear your suggestions. 🙂

2. “Our Roots” Artashes Qeshishyan, 430x500mm bas-relief/copper/wood.

This compelling relief, in my opinion, symbolises several aspects of an Armenian’s roots.

First, the prominent Bible represents their devotion to their Orthodox religion.

Next, the family in the picture frame reminds me of how they are family-oriented.

The light spreading from the narrow church window can be interpreted as the goodness and presence of God, which surrounds all things.

Finally, the pomegranate tree (the fruit is one of the symbols of Armenia), which decorates the Bible’s stand, represents their Armenian identity.

The Armenians are loyal to their culture, and that is exemplified by “Our Roots”.

3. “The Future” by Armen Araqelyan, 15×55 sculpture/bronze

I found that the smooth contours and the gentle colours of the woman and her dress expresses the beauty of pregnancy and womanhood, as well as the expectant joy for future children.

This piece was inspired by the sculptor’s wife, who was pregnant with twins. They were due to be born around the time of the exhibition.

Amalia had previously asked him if his wife had given birth yet, but he answered no. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there that day. But it meant that their family would be welcoming two new members into the world very soon!

4. “Vahan Tekeyan” by Misak Melkonyan, 60x30x23 sculpture/gypsum

Vahan Tekeyan was a 20th century poet and public activist, of whom the centre was named after.

Tekeyan’s name inscribed in Armenian.

The pure-white bust reflects on Tekeyan’s perfectionism, while the facial expression displays an air of austerity. The feather and scrolls on the plinth (or base) represent him as a poet. I just really like how it looks so perfect!

With the master artist.

5. “Albus Dumbledore – the hero of Hurry [sic] Potter by J.K. Rowling”
by Norayr Ghambaryan, 32cm, papier-mache designer doll

I was surprised and I laughed a bit when I saw this doll, because it was the only pop culture symbol in the exhibit.

Looking past Dumbledore’s awkwardly shaped hands, I’m amazed by how the artist stayed true to Dumbledore’s details, such as his tassel hat, half-moon spectacles, elder wand, and robe.

“10 points for Gryffindor!” 😀

6. “Ascension” by Donara Chibuxchyan, 89×107 tapestry

My first reaction to this was: “Wow, 8-bit Armenians!”

The people in the tapestry are dressed in taraz (the national Armenian garb), and, interestingly, two of the men are playing the dhol (Armenian drum) and possibly zurna or duduk (both Armenian woodwinds). The earthy colours give it an ethnic vibe. I’m really fascinated by it.

7. “Naomi” (Kenya) by Armine Toumanyan, 60×80 akril/oil

While the rest of the culture-themed artworks depicted Armenia, I wonder why this artist chose a different culture to portray.

Perhaps the message of this painting is that there’s a part of the Armenian which is curious and appreciative about other cultures.

8. “Midday” by Sargis Terzyan, 70×90 canvas/oil

This was another painting that charmed me because of its pastel colours and cartoonish style. We recently went on a roadtrip southward to the countrysides of Khor Virap and Noravank, and I find that this fits the carefree lines and vibrant colours of Armenia’s hills.

9. “A wounded wolf” by Garik Prveyan 50×70 canvas/oil

This piece is my favourite because the fierce wolf’s vulnerability brought out the compassion in me. The contrast of a grey wolf and scarlet blood on gentle snow is striking, and the pawprints plus the edge of the forest on the upper left suggest a sad story.

“Armenia” by Mikayel Harutyunyan, 100×100, 20, canvas/oil

I can’t believe how a teenager – who’s only three years older than me – could paint this.

But I have to admit it to you: At first sight, the teenager in me almost dismissed it as just another classical painting.

I wanted the subject to surprise me, and then after, I would dwell on the details and think about what makes it cool.

Armenia didn’t have that effect on me, but since I was compelled by the artist’s reputation – plus, I saw my dad pointing to the woman’s face, saying, “Look at that emotion!” – I knew I had to try and understand it. I’m glad I did.

Gazing at the scene makes me feel like I’m taking a walk in the countryside to come face-to-face with the lady herself. Her face is full of feeling, and her wrinkled hands tell a story.

I ended up wishing I could drink in the colours because they were full of life, and, up to now, I’m still poring over the details of the masterpiece.

The man working in the bushes, the leafy branches, flowers, and the village in the background don’t steal the focus from the woman, but they themselves have character.

The more that I look at this painting, the more I’m amazed.

Initially, I was starstruck and nearly speechless when I met Mikayel.

It was also pretty cool because I made friends with him despite the language barrier.

All I got to say was, “I want to be like you someday!” He was beaming as much as me when he replied, “You can!”

Mikayel’s Filipino fanclub!

I wish I interviewed him right then and there, because I want to understand and learn from why he’s so good at what he does. (Well, I’m trying to land an interview with him, so, if you’re as impressed as I am, stay tuned for a blog post on that this month, hopefully 😉 )

In conclusion…

The hall emptied, and when we walked out, I felt content – as if I just finished dining at a great banquet.

You see, this event made me appreciate Armenia’s art more, and I was grateful to have rubbed shoulders with the greats. Seeing those heart-stirring works of art inspires me to create art that will move others.

It also made me fall in love with Armenia more. This country has mothered so many marvellous people who make marvellous works of art, so, I say, come on over! Visit Armenia and come face-to-face with its amazing art and artists.

Which artwork was your favourite and why? Share it in the comments! 🙂

Posted by Issa Adalia

Teen blogger since 2012. Homeschooled rockstar. Filipina globetrotter. Rookie artist. Asian in Armenia. Rescued by Jesus.

1 comment

This is artical have some information of Armenian art scenario which is very cool. Can I know about their art statement as well. If it possible.

Tell me what you think...