Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia I/III

Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia I/III
show 2

December 7, 2014 - January 20, 2015
Reading: December 7, 3:30 P.M.The Past Is Not Past, Elliot Baker

Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia

Genocide studies show that the trauma does not stop at the generation that experiences the genocide. So the experiences of second and third generations continue to affect the next generations.[1]
Gagik Aroutiunian
The first exhibition in the Kiss the Ground exhibition series took place in the fall and examined the art of Armenian-born, Chicago-based Gagik Aroutiunian, whose work focuses on memory and identity through the imagery of family, loss and displacement—the aftereffects of a culture nearly brought to extinction. The Gagik Aroutiunian—Kiss the Ground virtual exhibition may be viewed online by visiting Part II of the series, Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground (December 18, 2014 – March 13, 2015) focuses on the abstract-narrative paintings of Talin Megherian (Watertown, MA). Her work explores family and cultural stories about the Armenian Genocide, often focusing on the stories of Armenian women in particular. Part II overlaps with this exhibition and may be seen at the Weston location until March of 2015.
Kiss the Ground—A New ArmeniaI runs between December 7, 2014 and January 20, 2015.  The middle exhibition of A New ArmeniaII occurs between January 25 and March 1, 2015 here at ALMA. The final part of Kiss the Ground—A New ArmeniaIII will take place at The Cambridge School of Weston’s Thompson Gallery from March 30 - June 13, 2015.
Kiss the Ground takes its namesake from the etymology of one of the Armenian words for “worship.”[2] The word “yergurbakootyoon” translates literally to mean, “kissing the ground,” but figuratively refers to total submission—voluntary or involuntary. A gesture of the body, such as laying face down on the ground, is an act of deep veneration. The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church points out, “words and thoughts alone cannot express all that we believe,” nor can they express all that the Armenian people have endured, and that is why the gesture requires great effort. Though it is used as a term of “worship” today, the word is largely disconnected from its initial roots and is not commonly used. The aftereffects of disconnection, and the need for cultural redefinition, are what prompted this exhibition series. As a verbal expression that describes a figurative activity, yergurbakootyoon in the context of this exhibition series signals a metaphorical reference for an expression of hallowed respect and connection. The particular action conjures many images, thoughts and associations that go beyond its original usage. Spoken in English on American soil, “kissing the ground” brings to mind reverence for land, for home, for country, for people, and for a way of living. It is an act of great dedication to connect to a difficult past and build an uncertain future.
Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia offers a glimpse of the work being made today by American-Armenian artists from as nearby as Watertown and as far away as Chicago. Some artists in the show embrace their heritage and family histories, while others do not; the choice to engage with a difficult past is a personal one for artists and families alike. A New Armenia begins with the premise that all post-traumatic experiences are valid. Each artist in their own way contributes something vital to the collective memory of Armenian people and culture, which today, despite its traumatic past, is thriving and expansive.
Gail Boyajian (Cambridge, MA) considers her landscape drawings and paintings to be “characters, created by the voices and ghosts of present and past inhabitants.”[3] Her painting Anatolian Memorial depicts a vast panorama viewed only by native birds—contemporary Eastern Anatolia, scattered with historic Armenian ruins and the remnants of many past cultures.
Adrienne Der Marderosian (Belmont, MA) creates works on paper that shed light on the relationship between collective memory, human motivation and navigating the future. Her art asks us: “How do we endure the most challenging of situations? Do we control our destiny or do events determine the direction that our lives take?”[4] As her series title—Tattoo Trails II—suggests, the indelible trauma of Armenian displacement prompts such questions even now—one hundred years later.
Aida Laleian (Williamstown, MA) works with digital photography to “liberate the image from the page” in ways that are “unimaginable in analog photography.”[5] Often embroidering her photographs, she is interested in “the irony of using an infinitely reproducible medium to create a one-of-a-kind, laboriously crafted object.”[6] Though Laleian does not directly explore themes of genocide in her work, the notion of maternal protection is a welcome interpretation of her untitled gum dichromate print. Similarly, the randomly generated title Turn To Their Blameless Deceits conjures imagery of facelessness and denial.
Talin Megherian (Watertown, MA) has been making abstract-narrative paintings for the past decade that explore collective Armenian memory and identity. She describes her efforts: “I feel compelled to give them a voice—in part, for a people that have not healed, in part for myself, and in part for my family that still remembers.”[7] Upper Torso exposes the brutality inflicted upon Armenian Christians living under the auspices of the 1915 Ottoman government.
Yefkin Megherian (Queens, NY) creates bronze bas-reliefs and portraits of various personages and events from Armenian history, including Armenian clergy and members of her own family. Her plastilene model for bronze casting entitled St. Mesrob & St. Sahag—The Invention of the Armenian Alphabet 404 A.D. was commissioned in memory of Paul DerOhannesian and installed in the nave of Saint Peter Armenian Church, Watervliet, NY.[8]
Marsha Odabashian (Dedham, MA) works to obscure the horror of genocide with decoration, much in the same way people place flowers on tombstones—with a hope of creating temporary solace.[9] In Greatness has Passed, the grandeur of a rich culture is ironically incarnated though the confrontation of large-scale painting.
Kevork Mourad (New York, NY) draws and paints on bodies, paper and canvas, and is widely known for his performance drawings in which the artist responds to live orchestral music. In the oversized drawing Standing Alone, the artist considers the power of one individual who takes a stand.
Jessica Sperandio (Franklin, MA) explores issues of presence and absence in her familial-biographical sculptures and installations. Her recent work documents family history “to preserve what is left of her Armenian family heritage.”[10]
Collectively, the work in Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia juxtaposes complicated issues for consideration, in which reverence often commingles with solemn remembrance. As the title of the series implies, veneration requires effort. But such exertion also results in the recognition of a new experience, a new understanding, a new Armenia.
Todd Bartel
Gallery Director, Curator
Thompson Gallery

[1] Gagik Aroutiunian Interview, Waltham, MA, August 29, 2014
[2] Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Ed. The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, St. Vartan Press, New York, 2011, ix
[3] Gail Boyajian, artist’s statement, 2012
[4] Adrienne Der Marderosian, artist’s statement, 2011
[5] Aida Laleian, artist’s biography statement, 2014
[6] Ibid.
[7] Talin Megherian, artist’s statement, 2011
[8] Yefkin Megherian, artist’s statement, 2014
[9] Marsha Odabashian, artist’s statement 2014
[10] Jessica Sperandio, artist’s statement, 2014

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