• 2003, plastilene, wood frame, aluminum letters and bead on plywood, acrylic case
30.625 x 22.625 inches
In the 5th century C.E., after Armenia became the first kingdom to accept Christianity as its national religion, an Armenian alphabet became necessary for the translation of the Bible and other important works into the Armenian language. Catholicos St. Sahag, supreme head of the Armenian Church, and King Vramshapuh sent St. Mesrob Mashtots to Mesopotamia to find the letters for an Armenian alphabet. St. Mesrob supplemented Greek and Syriac letters with his own original work, resulting in an Armenian alphabet of 36 letters. This scene represents St. Mesrob presenting Catholicos St. Sahag with the completed alphabet, which is still in use today.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Yefkin Megherian, Model for St. Mesrob & St. Sahag—The Invention of the Armenian Alphabet 404 A.D.

      2003, plastilene, wood frame, aluminum letters and bead on plywood, acrylic case 30.625 x 22.625 inches In the 5th century C.E., after Armenia became the first kingdom to accept Christianity as its national religion, an Armenian alphabet became necessary for the translation of the Bible and other important works into the Armenian language. Catholicos St. Sahag, supreme head of the Armenian Church, and King Vramshapuh sent St. Mesrob Mashtots to Mesopotamia to find the letters for an Armenian alphabet. St. Mesrob supplemented Greek and Syriac letters with his own original work, resulting in an Armenian alphabet of 36 letters. This scene represents St. Mesrob presenting Catholicos St. Sahag with the completed alphabet, which is still in use today.

    • When I read about the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, women in particular, I often respond through the creation of abstractions that reference particular stories. There are tragic stories from both sides of my family. 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. In Upper Torso, I recall a story I heard as a child about Armenian women being tortured by breast amputation.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Talin Megherian, Upper Torso, 2004, gouache, ink and gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 17.75 inches

      When I read about the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, women in particular, I often respond through the creation of abstractions that reference particular stories. There are tragic stories from both sides of my family. 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. In Upper Torso, I recall a story I heard as a child about Armenian women being tortured by breast amputation.

    • A New Armenia 1.25.no text

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      A New Armenia 1.25.no text

    • found images, maps, vellum, thread on paper
7.75 x 3.8125 inches

This series of works, entitled Tattoo Trails II, explores the relationship between memory and identity. As an artist of Armenian descent, I carry a history that embodies not only my past but also that of my ancestors. My families’ stories of survival are not only rich and textured, but also complex and traumatic. Their collective history has led me to consider how exiles that are separated from their homeland navigate their lives. How does migration affect them psychologically? Do immigrants face feelings of alienation, isolation and displacement? How are their cultural identities impacted by their separation from their homeland?

Throughout my work, I investigate these questions and challenge the viewer to consider the strength and endurance of the human spirit.

This series is based on a video still by Erwin Wurm entitled, Shopping, 1995/96.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Adrienne Der Marderosian, Migration (Tattoo Trails II series), 2014

      found images, maps, vellum, thread on paper 7.75 x 3.8125 inches This series of works, entitled Tattoo Trails II, explores the relationship between memory and identity. As an artist of Armenian descent, I carry a history that embodies not only my past but also that of my ancestors. My families’ stories of survival are not only rich and textured, but also complex and traumatic. Their collective history has led me to consider how exiles that are separated from their homeland navigate their lives. How does migration affect them psychologically? Do immigrants face feelings of alienation, isolation and displacement? How are their cultural identities impacted by their separation from their homeland? Throughout my work, I investigate these questions and challenge the viewer to consider the strength and endurance of the human spirit. This series is based on a video still by Erwin Wurm entitled, Shopping, 1995/96.

    • Adrienne Der Marderosian, Passage No. 2 (Tattoo Trails II series), 2014 found images, maps, vellum,

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Adrienne Der Marderosian, Passage No. 2 (Tattoo Trails II series), 2014 found images, maps, vellum,

    • A gum dichromate print is a nineteenth-century process that yields what can best be understood as a ‘photographic watercolor.’ In retrospect, some twenty years after making the print, I realize it was the process, which helped me move into making digital art. Nor did I realize, at the time that photographing my daughter moved me away from photographing myself. My maternal grandparents survived the genocide, but their two-year old daughter (my mother’s sister, my aunt) did not; my daughter was about the same age when these photographs were taken, circa 1994.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Aida Laleian, Untitled, 1993 gum dichromate and van Dyke print on BFK 13 x 23.5 inches

      A gum dichromate print is a nineteenth-century process that yields what can best be understood as a ‘photographic watercolor.’ In retrospect, some twenty years after making the print, I realize it was the process, which helped me move into making digital art. Nor did I realize, at the time that photographing my daughter moved me away from photographing myself. My maternal grandparents survived the genocide, but their two-year old daughter (my mother’s sister, my aunt) did not; my daughter was about the same age when these photographs were taken, circa 1994.

    • bronze
16.25 x 21.75 inches

St. Gregory the Enlightener baptizing King Drtad and then the Queen and Princess. Armenia becomes the first Christian state in 301 C.E.

St. Gregory the Enlightener Baptizing King Drtad has been donated to the recently relocated St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in Armonk, NY.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Yefkin Megherian, St. Gregory the Enlightener Baptizing King DrTad, 2010

      bronze 16.25 x 21.75 inches St. Gregory the Enlightener baptizing King Drtad and then the Queen and Princess. Armenia becomes the first Christian state in 301 C.E. St. Gregory the Enlightener Baptizing King Drtad has been donated to the recently relocated St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in Armonk, NY.

    • Most of my works of the last three years have been influenced by the news I get of my home country. Many of my paintings mourn places of great beauty or significance that have been lost. In Standing Alone, I tried to capture the wealth and sophistication of our Middle Eastern culture, but also the sense of hope that has been the driving force in the struggle of the past few years. With our peoples’ long histories of survival, as long as there is at least one person standing, creation will happen; things will be rebuilt.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Kevork Mourad, Standing Alone, 2013, acrylic on paper, 120 x 48 inches

      Most of my works of the last three years have been influenced by the news I get of my home country. Many of my paintings mourn places of great beauty or significance that have been lost. In Standing Alone, I tried to capture the wealth and sophistication of our Middle Eastern culture, but also the sense of hope that has been the driving force in the struggle of the past few years. With our peoples’ long histories of survival, as long as there is at least one person standing, creation will happen; things will be rebuilt.

    • Anatolian Memorial was painted after I returned from a visit to Eastern Turkey with Armen Aroyan in 2008. We visited Sivas, where my paternal grandparents had lived, as well as Ani, Aghtamar, and many other former Armenian centers. The landscape seemed haunted to me, with ruins everywhere from many civilizations, and quite empty except for shepherds and farmed fields with dramatic landscapes—mountains, valleys, rivers—and lots of birds and animals. The visual and emotional richness there has been a source for my painting ever since.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Gail Boyajian, Anatolian Memorial, 2010, oil on panel 12 x 60 inches

      Anatolian Memorial was painted after I returned from a visit to Eastern Turkey with Armen Aroyan in 2008. We visited Sivas, where my paternal grandparents had lived, as well as Ani, Aghtamar, and many other former Armenian centers. The landscape seemed haunted to me, with ruins everywhere from many civilizations, and quite empty except for shepherds and farmed fields with dramatic landscapes—mountains, valleys, rivers—and lots of birds and animals. The visual and emotional richness there has been a source for my painting ever since.

    • Greatness Has Passed is part of a series called Half-perceived: Stalking the Peacock. Inspiration for the series originated from the abundance of peacock motifs in medieval Armenian manuscripts. Peacocks have taken on multiple meanings culturally, historically and in fashion. In this case, the gold-crowned peacock alludes to a glorious civilization gone by. This painting addresses the complexities of a lost past.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Marsha Odabashian, Greatness Has Passed, 2010, oil on canvas 48 x 36 inches

      Greatness Has Passed is part of a series called Half-perceived: Stalking the Peacock. Inspiration for the series originated from the abundance of peacock motifs in medieval Armenian manuscripts. Peacocks have taken on multiple meanings culturally, historically and in fashion. In this case, the gold-crowned peacock alludes to a glorious civilization gone by. This painting addresses the complexities of a lost past.

    • Aida Laleian, Turn to Their Blameless Deceits, 2008 UV ink on canvas, silk border 54.5 x 72 inches

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Aida Laleian, Turn to Their Blameless Deceits, 2008 UV ink on canvas, silk border 54.5 x 72 inches

    • laser cut leather, thread, wood, acrylic 
53 x 34 x 2 inches

Perousse and her brother were the only known family members that made it to America. Her brother took his own life soon after making it to the United States.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio, Those Who Survived and Those Who Perished, 2014

      laser cut leather, thread, wood, acrylic 53 x 34 x 2 inches Perousse and her brother were the only known family members that made it to America. Her brother took his own life soon after making it to the United States.

    • Jessica Sperandio, Those Who Survived and Those Who Perished, (detail)

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio, Those Who Survived and Those Who Perished, (detail)

    • Jessica Sperandio, Those Who Survived and Those Who Perished, (detail)

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio, Those Who Survived and Those Who Perished, (detail)

    • laser and hand cut leather, thread, acrylic
80 x 40 x 2 inches

The last words Perousse Boyajian heard were “Run to the forest!” as her village was being raided. She fled with her brother, leaving behind her mother, infant and toddler sisters.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio, Last Words: Run to the Forest, 2014

      laser and hand cut leather, thread, acrylic 80 x 40 x 2 inches The last words Perousse Boyajian heard were “Run to the forest!” as her village was being raided. She fled with her brother, leaving behind her mother, infant and toddler sisters.

    • Jessica Sperandio, Last Words: Run to the Forest, 2014 (detail)

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio, Last Words: Run to the Forest, 2014 (detail)

    • Jessica Sperandio, Last Words: Run to the Forest, 2014 (detail)

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio, Last Words: Run to the Forest, 2014 (detail)

    • laser cut leather, thread, wood, acrylic
70 x 68 x 2 inches

The dinner scene depicted in Chakatagir is informed by a photograph of Turkish soldiers with two men’s heads displayed on a platter. I grew up hearing about family members losing physical body parts during the Turkish raids. At the bottom of Chakatagir, physical parts lost by family members are memorialized.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio Chakatagir, 2014

      laser cut leather, thread, wood, acrylic 70 x 68 x 2 inches The dinner scene depicted in Chakatagir is informed by a photograph of Turkish soldiers with two men’s heads displayed on a platter. I grew up hearing about family members losing physical body parts during the Turkish raids. At the bottom of Chakatagir, physical parts lost by family members are memorialized.

    • Jessica Sperandio Chakatagir, 2014 (detail)

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio Chakatagir, 2014 (detail)

    • Jessica Sperandio Chakatagir, 2014 (detail)

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio Chakatagir, 2014 (detail)

    • laser cut leather, thread, wood, acrylic 
25 x 44 x 1 inches

Passage is an imaginary attempt to depict how Mardiros Boyajian and Perousse (Sahagian) Boyajian were able to escape Turkey for France in 1919. No one knows for sure.

      Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (part 1)

      Jessica Sperandio Passage, 2014

      laser cut leather, thread, wood, acrylic 25 x 44 x 1 inches Passage is an imaginary attempt to depict how Mardiros Boyajian and Perousse (Sahagian) Boyajian were able to escape Turkey for France in 1919. No one knows for sure.

Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia I/III

Kiss the Ground II/VI

December 7, 2014 - January 20, 2015

The Thompson Gallery (The Cambridge School of Weston, Weston, MA) and The Armenian Museum of America have joined forces to present Kiss the Ground, a 5-part exhibition series centering on the work of 12 Armenian artists. The exhibitions examine and celebrate contemporary Armenian art at a particular moment in history, organized to coincide with the centennial memorialization of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. At its core, the exhibition series is catalyzed by the contrast between celebration and remembrance

Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia (parts 1 & 2) Catalog


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 thompsongallery.csw.org. 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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The Cambridge School of Weston is a progressive high school for day and boarding students in grades 9–12 and PG. CSW's mission is to provide a progressive education that emphasizes deep learning, meaningful relationships, and a dynamic program that inspires students to discover who they are and what their contribution is to their school, their community and the world.