Regardless of the Armenian community struggle of ethnic cleansing, the diasporic community has found their voices in the arts. The Armenian community’s strength is through taking the responsablity to represent their cultural heritage in the arts and thrive in Beirut Lebanon. One prominent example is the modernist, Paul Guiragossian (1926-1993), a descendant of the Armenian genocide and moved to Beirut after the Arab-Israeli war. The themes of motherhood, domestic life and spirituality in his art draw a special connection beyond the Armenian diaspora in Lebanon.
By Eman Al-Alami
Fast-forward to the 21st century, Armenian women artists have followed suit to combine Lebanese influences with their Armenian heritage in their craft. These women have taken ownership of their voices in a variety of styles in Beirut. To name a few, Rawia Zantout is an modern impressionist, Talar Aghbashian takes her influences from Ashile Gorky and Karen Chekerdjian’s furniture explores function, form and meaning.
These women are using their visions through their art practices while diversifying the growth of the Beirut art scene. Read more to discover the emerging and established Armenian-Lebanese women artists defining the Middle Eastern art scene.
A group of young, emerging and groundbreaking artists, Sylvia Seraydarian, Nathalie Khatchadourian, Christina Kabakian, Nora Diban presented their work at the “Collective Exhibition of Young Artists” at the Hamazkayin Lucy Tutunjian Art Gallery in 2019, a gallery space for Armenian heritage. Each of these ladies have their own inspirations and their art practices, Sylvia Seraydarian is inspired by the combination of nature, womanhood and her Armenian heritage like the handmade embroideries found in her home that were made by her mother and grandmother. Seraydarian’s work The Woman & The World, is an interpretation of the world’s view of a girl’s expectation as she grows into a woman.
Nathalie Khatchadourian takes her point of view from the relationship eyes have to the camera in how we observe life, death and the afterlife. Christina Kabakian aspires to have her own art gallery but for now she is inspired by historical art while mixing in the theme of the Armenian diaspora and how it affected Armenians interpretation of their homeland. Nora Diban’s purpose in art is to remind the public of the humbling inner serenity and meditative effects art gives from a busy life like Nature Morte II, where we don’t even sit to enjoy the blessings of food on our table.
We don’t take enough time to sit down, take a breather and admire the natural beauty around us. Diban certainly has a point. Although all these ladies do not have art pages to follow their progress, they are all building their portfolios to continue to represent their heritage and the cultural depth Lebanon has to offer.
The exceptionally talented artist, Rita Massoyan tackles the identity of children in art. Children are the representations of innocence and energy, Massoyan uses the bright colors and geometric shapes to capture the short and fleeting moments of a child’s life. In World of Toys, we see a bright young boy using his toys as his crown, a symbol for a child’s imagination.
In contrast, Massoyan, thinks about the moments of sadness and maturity that are missed when describing a child’s behavior, Affection, a young girl is holding tight to her teddy bear where we see her fear and sadness. Rita Massoyan is dynamic to illustrate children’s books too. If given the chance to visit the French Embassy of Lebanon and Residence des pins, her works are a part of the individual collection.
Inspired by Impressionism, the South of France and Monet, Rawia Zantout’s art focuses on creating landscapes of her home country, Lebanon. Zantout tells the tale of Beirut through reflecting on its historical landmarks like the Mohammad Al Amin Mosque and Martyrs Square, the recent Lebanon Revolution in 2019 and it’s iconic cedar trees. The clientele of Rawia Zantout is impressive, ranging from President Michel Aoun, President Valdimir Putin, PM Fouad Seniora and PM Saad Hariri. Zantout’s art medium is in acrylic on canvas, lithographs and prints and has been presented in exhibitions across the world, in April 2020 she presented a solo exhibition at the Artifact gallery in New York, in 2019 she was represented at the Beirut Art Fair and in 2018, she had her work exhibited at the Parallax Art Fair Exhibition in the United Kingdom.
A painter who re-invents mythology, landscapes and ambiguities in our time describes Talar Aghbashian. The archeological, historical and classical are what gives a refined abstract contemporary vision for Aghbashian. The layering effect of paintings are as dense of a subject matter as the details on the canvas. “I find that painting exactly replicates my human experiences…. I work in layers of paint. I set them down. I build them up. I break them down, and then the image slowly appears.” Aghbashian told The Daily Star. Aghbashian’s solo exhibitions have included the Marfa Projects in Beirut, Lebanon in 2018, Carbon 12 Gallery in Dubai , United Arab Emirates in 2015 and The French Cultural Center in Beirut in 2005.
Furniture, jewelry and home designer Karen Chekerdjian was educated in Milan in Industrial design at the DOMUS academy and returned back to Beirut in 2001 to open up her own namesake studio Karen Chekerdjian Studio. The presence of the studio in Karantina, is what paved the city into an artistic transformation that had been emptied, destroyed and rundown since the civil war, which the studio helped bring back to life. The global response to Karen Chekerdijan’s designs have been presented with enormous positivity, the Carwan Gallery hosted her works in 2016, the Institut du Monde Arabe presented her work in 2015 during their “Respiration” exhibition and the Beirut Art Fair in 2012.
Chekerdjian’s designs are inspired by conceptualism, geometry and contemporary art, while staying true to Lebanon’s heritage. The Italian flat marble table, Inside Out is based on rethinking a line, Chekerdijan describes IN Arts & Culture, “I took the drawing of them and I flattened it, and then I cut it and opened it, like origami or a fabric pattern, and then I exploded it and it became the table.” The unique pieces in anyone’s home are a combination of Lebanese craftsmanship and modern, sculptural abstract style to bring elegance into one’s home.