Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia III/III
March 30 - June 13, 2015Click this link to View the Exhibition Catalog PDF
Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia
Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia
Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.[i]
The role of art is to make a world which can be inherited.[ii]
The difference between Diaspora Armenians and Armenians from this country [Armenia] is that the Diaspora have a thirst for the homeland. When you live in a house built near a spring, you may know what thirst means, but you will not really feel it.[iii]
An Individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity. Every person must decide at some point, whether they will walk in light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment: Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'[iv]
Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Kiss the Ground
takes its namesake from the etymology of one of the Armenian words for “worship.”[v]
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, particularly for the generations of Armenians living in exile
. It is an act of great dedication to connect to a difficult past and build an uncertain future.[vi]
Before looking at the work on display in this last of three A New Armenia exhibitions, and the last Kiss the Ground exhibition, imagine yourself on a journey.
Imagine being on a journey that has thus far lasted a century, and yet there is no end in sight; you cannot rest and must keep moving. Along your way, keep in mind that to get to wherever you are within your journey, it took at least two generations before you to help you arrive at where you now stand. And never forget, wherever you go, that the generations that lived before your journey was made necessary died at the hands of another. To appreciate the depth of the context of your single journey, you must also keep in mind that your journey is but one of the stories of more than 1.5 million other individuals whose lives were lost and those families' stories are like your own. And lastly, you are reminded daily as you move through time and space that the existing government, that was once home to your ancestors, denies their story ever happened. To imagine this journey is to establish a frame of reference necessary for untangling the complex reality that informs the work of the artists here exhibited in Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia.
To borrow the words of Donald Bloxham, “The central historical event of this [exhibition series] is the destruction of some one million Armenian Christians under the auspices of the Ottoman government in 1915-16.”[vii]
The Kiss the Ground
exhibition series was organized to examine the art of a select group of local and national American-Armenian artists, whose work addresses issues of identity in light of their ancestral Armenian past, and for that examination to occur during the culturally recognized centennial marker of April 24, 1915.
In the first Kiss the Ground exhibition, the work of Gagik Aroutiunian, a second generation Genocide survivor, illuminated one of the realities of living under the dark cover of genocide: many if not most survivor’s families chose taciturn remembrance as a way to move forward. Accordingly, Aroutiunian’s work is filled with bits of fractured memories, familial melancholy and stoic iconography. In the second Kiss the Ground exhibition, the work of Talin Megherian, a third generation Genocide survivor, broke silence and disclosed her painful dark past, naming individuals, illuminating personal stories and other cultural remembrances in visibly iconic ways. Megherian’s work requires intimate knowledge or a key to decipher her iconography. In the respective cases of Megherian’s and Aroutiunian’s work, both artists’ approaches to content are pertinent to, and respective of, the generation to which each artist is connected. The differences between how and what Aroutiunian and Megherian have disclosed in their personal stories are quite possibly due to subtle shifts in attitude that accompany an increased separation from the date of incident; the closer you are in time to a past tragedy, the harder it is to talk about it. Both artists’ works are hushed in some way, though Megherian’s work is a shade closer to disclosure than Aroutiunian’s. And importantly, both artists' works speak the truth, respective to their experience.
One thing these two artists' truths have helped Thompson Gallery audiences appreciate, regarding what they must continuously navigate, is that neither artist has a better way than the other of exploring their past: all post-genocide attempts at defining self through art are valid, vital and illuminating. And, as author Lewis Hyde so powerfully demonstrates in his book, The Gift
, “So long as the artist speaks the truth, [s]he will, whenever the government is lying or has betrayed the people, become a political force...”[viii]
Indeed, truth survives, Hyde points out, “in the resistant imagination”[ix]
that was moved to create art about inhumane betrayal. Above all else, Kiss the Ground
exhibitions have aimed to voice the collective memory of the Armenians.
We have arrived in our exhibition series at a place in which the content of the work on view has become progressively more overt. A New Armenia advances past the taciturn and the cryptic, and moves into graduated stages of explicitness. Viewers are asked to consider four basic artistic strategies regarding content disclosure: portrayal, poetic allusion, abject symbolism, and transformation. The differences among art that portrays a subject, that points through poetic allusion, that confronts an audience with abject symbolism, or that illuminates the potential of transformation are easily recognized through contemplating a particular work and imagining it as pertaining to a specific taxonomic category. Some works seem to belong in more than one designation, other works easily fit within a single category, and some works may be difficult to pin down. The required effort for establishing this ground work, however, yields a much deeper understanding of the artist’s respective journeys and your own.
These exhibitions were created as a way of keeping in motion Dr. Rev. King’s great imperative: What are you doing for others?[x]
This exhibition series asks its viewers to carry forth the stories presented by Kiss the Ground
artists.To carry their stories with you now, while on your own journey, is to play an important part in maintaining humanity. As William Saroyan once said, make a world which can be inherited.[xi]
To understand that part of your charge is to appreciate why every time Armenians meet along their journeys, they are compelled to create a new Armenia.
Gallery Director, Curator
William Saroyan, Inhale & Exhale
, Random House, New York, NY, 1936, p. 438
As quoted by Coretta Scott King in The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.
, Newmarket Press, 1983
, Ch. Community of man
, p. 17
Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Ed. The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church
, St. Vartan Press, New York, 2011, ix
Note: the first paragraph is reprinted from A New Armenia (Parts 1 & 2)
wall text and the accompanying catalog (p. 12), for the purposes of providing the Cambridge School of Weston’s audience with the background context.
Donald Bloxham, The Great Game of Genocide (Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians)
, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005, p. vii
[viii] Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, First Vintage Books Edition, Random House, New York, NY, 1979, p. 198