On April 24, 2015, Armenians around the world will commemorate the centennial of the Armenian genocide, generally considered the first large-scale genocide of the 20th century. Many of the remembrances will focus on the horror of the genocide itself. In Project 1915, Chicago-based Armenian-American artist Jackie Kazarian chooses instead to celebrate 3000 years of Armenian culture and resilience.
When Kazarian first considered creating a piece of art to commemorate the genocide, she immediately thought about Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s anguished response to another act of horror in the twentieth century–the first saturation bombing of a civilian population as an act of terror in 1936. The painting that stands at the heart of Project 1915, Armenia (Hayasdan), references that initial inspiration with its monumental size and Kazarian’s skillful use of symbolic elements.* Nonetheless the two works are fundamentally different. In Geurnica, Picasso uses fragmentation, dislocation, metamorphosis and a bleak monochromatic palette to create a searing image of the agony of war. In Armenia, Kazarian combines a semi-abstract landscape, a Pollack-like manipulation of wet paint, Armenian cultural imagery, and the glowing palette of a medieval manuscript to imbue Armenia’s tumultuous history with a sense of both loss and joy.
Kazarian describes the work as an “ascension painting”, a phrase that describes not only the chromatic movement in the painting but the emotional movement that it embodies. As the granddaughter of four genocide survivors , Kazarian witnessed and shared their pain, sadness and anger over what they had experienced–emotions shared by the Armenian community as a whole. She hopes the painting will help foster conversation about genocide, tolerance, and forgiveness: “The painting is a gesture of remembrance for the victims and survivors, but it is also meant to inspire conversation about how to promote understanding, compassion and tolerance amongst different communities of people.”
Armenia (Hayasdan) will be displayed in Chicago from April 17 through May 29 at Mana Contemporary. If you’re in Chicago, or coming through, take the time to see it. It is a breathtaking and thought-provoking work of art. If Chicago isn’t in the cards for you, with any luck you’ll have other chances to see the painting. Project 1915 is a non-profit and is currently raising funds to tour the exhibition to other locations throughout the United States and the world.
For more information about the painting and Project 1915, check the website: http://www.project1915.org/.
*The only explicit echo seems to be a ox-like creature from a medieval Armenia manuscript that occupies the same position on the canvas as Picasso’s menacing human-headed bull. On the other hand, both paintings are so rich that I could have missed something.