Kiss the Ground
December 18, 2014 - March 13, 2015
Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground
It is a given that nothing is whole. Everything has contradiction embedded within it.
There is death…but there is life. And that’s what we have to see…create.
Kiss the Ground is a five-part exhibition series that examines and celebrates contemporary Armenian art at a particular moment in history, organized to overlap with the centennial memorialization of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground, the second exhibition in the series, focuses on the artist’s abstract-narrative paintings and her interest in the stories and traditions of the Armenian people, compromised by the atrocities of 1915. Concurrent with this exhibition, the third part of the series, Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia, may be seen at the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) between now and March 2015. Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia is itself an exhibition in three parts. Parts I & II will take place at ALMA between December 2014 and early March of 2015. Part III of Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia will be on view in the Thompson Gallery in April of 2015.
Talin Megherian (Watertown, MA) mines collective Armenian memory, the specific memories of her family, and Armenian women’s stories in particular to inform her art. A second generation Armenian-American, she was born in Queens, NY, studied at the School of Visual Arts (New York, NY) for two years, and ultimately earned her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI) in 1985. During her senior year at RISD, she lived and painted in Rome at RISD’s European Honors Program. Megherian developed a sustaining interest in antiquity while in Rome, and her work today is littered with artifacts from past cultures. In 2004, Megherian traveled to Armenia—a visit that inspired the creation of her paintings on display in this Kiss the Ground exhibit. The visit signaled Megherian’s intensified embrace of her Armenian heritage and the personal and cultural stories of the Armenian people.
The Kiss the Ground series opened with the work of Gagik Aroutiunian, whose art centers on issues of family, loss, displacement, memory and identity. It shed light on the ordeals and trials that millions of Armenians suffered nearly a century ago and how the trauma of genocide remains manifest in second and third generations. The exhibition eloquently and painfully demonstrated one of the strategies of dealing with lingering pain: reconstructing the fabric of family, while respecting the privacy of particular stories. It demonstrated the importance of the responsibility of memory—a theme that is present throughout the Kiss the Ground series. From this context, the series progressively evolves into more intensified approaches to this complicated and emotionally charged history. In this second exhibition, Megherian’s work shares powerful stories of loss and brutality toward women during the Genocide, but her stories are abstracted, subsumed into the fabric of her art, and require a key in order to appreciate the narratives that abound.
Megherian’s parents are first generation Diaspora Armenian-Americans. Her father, Fr. Vartan Megherian, “was born near Bagdad, Iraq while his family was escaping from the Turks. After he was born, the family was able to go to Aleppo, Syria and Fr. Vartan eventually made his way to the United States in 1946. Through his efforts, his family was able to join him in the United States soon after.”  Her mother, Yefkin Megherian—whose work is currently on display at ALMA in the A New Armenia exhibition—was born in Troy, NY. Yefkin Megherian points out, “My family didn’t talk about these things clearly; you heard a little scrap here and a little scrap there.
When contemplating Talin Megherian’s work, it is helpful to keep in mind that some of the remembrances she paints are linked to clear, namable sources. In contrast, some of her remembrances exist without context—fragments disconnected from their original wellspring. Neither circumstance eclipses the other in terms of importance. Each story shared, regardless of how it can be remembered or verified, holds vital information that the artist feels obligated to explore or preserve. In turn, they paint an all too vivid picture of the destructive capacity of humankind.
In childhood, experiences are often cut off from linguistic categorization. Each of us has stories of disconnected understanding and vague recollection, most of which do not amount to much significance. But in the case of Megherian, like so many contemporary Armenian artists, calling up the past and dredging personal and collective memory for useful fragments helps to reconstruct a splintered and restive sense of identity. Today, many Armenians are compelled to advance their century-long campaign for justice for the victims of the Genocide. As Megherian attests:
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.
Over the past decade, Megherian has produced series work—the Khatchkar series, and the Braids series in particular—in anticipation of the April 24th, 2015 centennial remembrance of the Genocide. In both bodies of work, her eclectic and colorful abstractions are lavishly bejeweled by images of Armenian artifacts, historical events, literary references and the objects and explicit stories she has re/collected. Megherian has necessarily developed a personal iconography. Unlike the sacred iconography of the first Christian nation—Armenians were among the first people to develop gospel iconography, which has a visual language, is promoted by many nations, has evolved over millennia, and is still in wide use today—Megherian’s iconography at times requires the knowledge of the specific referenced imagery or narrative, if not a willing, loosely interpretive eye, in order to appreciate its depth. Her imagery remains, however, immediately communicative; there is a palpable feeling of hope, strength, and grounded connectivity that is perceptible at initial glance. It would be hard to ignore the indelible splash and brilliance of color that greets viewers upon entering the gallery. Yet clues to her subject and interests abound. Images of women on fire, or hands tied, or severed braids above a red-stained field, send definite messages that something is amiss. But the overwhelming sense of beauty in the work creates a comfortable platform to address the harsh reality of what the work is about.
To enhance the experience of our viewers, the artist has generously provided commentary for many of the works on display, which may be found in the checklist and in the accompanying catalog for the exhibition. The stories Megherian depicts in her art are of a personal nature, and offer insight about her Armenian-American constitution as much as they illuminate Armenian consciousness and identity. It is recommended that our visitors carry the checklist booklets to read the artist’s commentary for specific works.
For example, in You Can Stop Carrying Her (2014), Megherian has developed an iconography for a particularly heart-wrenching family remembrance. Megherian paints a blue outline of the overall shape of a Renaissance drawing by Raphael (1483-1520) entitled Young Man Carrying an Old Man on his Back (c. 1514). She places it over a water-filled fount surrounded by feet taken from various Armenian illuminated manuscripts, all painted atop a practice calligraphy sheet of English letters. The family story she calls to mind in this exquisite composite work is about her great-grandmother, who, too weak to walk during the Ottoman deportations of Armenians from Marash, was carried on the back of Megherian’s great-uncle—until someone noticed she had died on his back.
While impossibly painful narratives punctuate Megherian’s imagery, symbolic references to regeneration, rejuvenation, replenishment and renewal juxtapose the images of horror. Megherian consistently unifies contradictory material, which in turn raises an important question: Why the beautiful mixed with the horrible? Perhaps the answers that arise in response to that particular question point to the key to Megherian’s iconography.
It has been said many times that a beautiful picture of an ugly thing is a cliché. Teachers guard their students against the pitfalls of so tempting an artistic strategy—lure a viewer in with something beautiful, then when they are close enough, reveal the dark and brutal secret. Megherian’s work should not be confused with this strategy. Rather, her strategy is about mixing truth with hope; Megherian’s strategy is about adding the catalyst to activate transformation. What are we to do—or, more poignantly, what are the Armenian people to do—with one hundred years without justice for the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide?
Megherian’s work shows us. Remember and Love. Collect and Connect. Honor and Build. Enfold the contradictions into the very fabric of our beings.
Gallery Director, Curator
Ian Berry, A Dialog with Shahzia Sikander by Ian Berry
, Opener 6, Shahzia Sikander
, The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery At Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 2004, p. 7
Elliot Baker, The Past Is Not Past—A Drama
, 2014, p. 22
Yefkin Megherian, interview, 12/13/14
Yefkin Megherian, interview, 12/13/14
Talin Megherian, interview, 7/27/14
Patrick Donabedian, Jean-Michel Thierry, translated from the French by Célestine Dars, Armenian Art
, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY, 1989, p. 41