curated by Liudmila Kirsanova
Opening: Fri, April 5th 2019 - 7 p.m.
Last September a big show “Armenia!” (right, with exclamation mark) was opened in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It was promoted as an overview of the Armenian contribution to the global cultural context. However, only medieval artefacts, from the 4th to the 17th century, were included into the show. The selection was considered to represent the story about how Armenian identity had been established— with the key point Christianity that had launched the cultural growth and built bridges among widespread Armenian communities. The New York Times spotted even Nikol Pashinyan at the opening (the leader of the velvet revolution and currently the prime minister of the country), and poetically linked this attendance to a potential bright development of new Armenian history and Armenian identity creating today by young courageous citizens within massive non-violent protests. In words of the article’s author Jason Farago: “such a rare gleam of hope in this global age of authoritarianism”.
In the title “Armenia?” in a place of exclamation mark I put a question one though. Despite fascination with Armenian rich cultural heritage, with a closer look, it becomes obvious that young generation is struggling with embracing and carrying it. On top of the cultural patterns there is a strong Christian legacy which implies idea of a traditional patriarch society, indeed. According to the last survey conducted by Pew Research Center across Europe, Armenians appeared on the first place to consider religion as a key component of national identity – 82% of participants labeled it important. Maintained through long Soviet oppression and post-soviet introduction to capitalism, religious mindset is still very powerful. Armenians treat the medieval cultural bloom – exhibited by the Met – not as an objectified past to be preserved in museums, but as a vibrant myth to be engaged into everyday life and keep mysterious attitude.
Besides the Met, last Vienna Contemporary art fair (2018) chose Armenia as its focus. Armenia Art Foundation, curated the booth, expanded in the text on the velvet revolution and represented it as a new Avangard project erasing the border between art and non-art on the way of creating new future. Articulated, this idea was not reflected in art pieces, whereas any alternative model of contemporary art is strongly requested by the Western European intellectual field. That is why the Viennese art community was disappointed in the Armenian booth – expectations for authenticity and diversity were not fulfilled. It is symptomatic for the Western gaze nowadays to believe in genuine art gesture happening outside Europe.
In this case my question mark in the title “Armenia?” addresses the position of Armenian young contemporary artists who work in between several powerful discourses: discourse of traditional Armenia, globalized discourse of contemporary art, identity politics and exoticizing West European approach. I have chosen 4 female young artists (under 27 years old) living and working in Armenia to reflect on that complicated situation. I do think that to learn a country and to comprehend its social, economical, political, cultural levels, one has to observe a position of a woman there. A figure of a young female artist becomes a better indicator furthermore. Since this position matches precarious living of the profession and feminist issues by default. That is why the artists Lilit Ispiryan, Gohar Martirosyan, Merri Mkrtchyan and Anna Vahrami were encouraged to reflect their own conditions and states in Armenia, as well as within Armenian contemporary art scene. There is no goal to grasp what Armenia actually is now, but an attempt to look at it applying new optics that is usually non-present in the global arena.