Interview: Loussiné Ghukasyan, Artist

Interview by Laure Raffy for HAYP Pop Up Gallery
Original text in French below. Download pdf:
Lussine Ghukasyan – interview – HAYP_En
Lussine Ghukasyan – interview – HAYP_Francais


 

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The visual artist Loussiné Ghukasyan exhibited at the previous HAYP Pop Up Gallery, “12 | 12 | 12 RETROSPECTIVE”, in Yerevan last December 2018. She was also a contributing artist at HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s “Lips of Pride” in 2016, and “Downshift” in 2017.

Laure Raffy: You studied design for 5 years at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Yerevan, what did this training bring you and how did it influence your artistic practice?

Loussine Ghukasyan: Initially, I applied to study etching and print media. In Armenia, the situation for artists is quite complicated. It’s not easy to take paths that differ from traditional ones, or to practice a profession that allows you to earn enough money to make a living. I decided to integrate design into my studies, thinking it would help me find work afterwards. But in the end, I chose to follow yet another path, specializing in painting. I loved the medium but not the pedagogy at the Academy. The environment was quite rigid.

So, I used to take my tools upstairs, alone on the terrace where I would paint the whole day before coming back down to the studios to present my work. This reminds me of a funny anecdote, I used to leave lots of empty space on my canvas. One day, a teacher came to me and told me that I had forgotten to complete some parts, as the entire canvas wasn’t covered.

I started to move away from the academy. Realism as a style and as a teaching method didn’t suit me. I felt like something was missing, like I couldn’t realize my ideas, my desires. I concentrated on drawing, which gave me more freedom. I felt more free to use white and black, a pallet I generally feel close to.

Loussine_Ghukasyan1LR: Your works are quite abstract with distinct lines. We don’t immediately guess what is hidden in these paintings, maybe that’s why we could find your works a bit frightening?

 

LG: I think that “beauty” hits you at first sight- a first glance. What you discover afterwards interests me more. I hope that my work escapes from what I call “first look”, I try to focus on the second encounter. My canvases reveal what emanates from the form: noise, emptiness, agitation … Occasionally I integrate color into my paintings. For instance, there’s a lot of blue in my works exhibited at 12 | 12 | 12. The work is actually called “In the Blue”. I have to say, naming my works is something really difficult for me. Titles don’t matter in my artistic practice. But blue is an important color for me. It’s the color of the night, thoughts, flowing water…

LR: Could you tell us about the context in which this work was produced?

LG: Two of the paintings presented in the installation were made when I lived in Marseille. I painted the third canvas when I was back in Yerevan. These paintings are the transcriptions of a wide range of emotions, encounters, important events … You can read the agitation, the movement, the fall, the trouble. The blood flowing at full speed in the veins and the body at rest. That is what I tried to express.

LR: What does the video projected on your canvases bring to the work?

LG: My video reveals fragments of life: the footsteps of passers-by in the street, their feet, the blinking of a woman’s eyes, all this slowed down. We don’t always pay attention to the gestures of everyday life. I wanted to play with the paint / video contrast in this installation. Video is essentially a moving image. In that sense, it contrasts with painting, a fixed image. I decided to slow down the images of the video and project them on my paintings which are agitated and dark, in order to bring serenity and a slower pace to the experience. The second part of my video, a white screen without image, illuminates the painting. It represents the only moment when we can distinguish the works on canvas in isolation, without distraction or filter; exposed.

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LR: Are your works on canvas preceded by sketches?

LG: My practice is spontaneous. I paint directly on canvas. I do not make a preliminary sketch. I like being alone when I paint, I like working without the eyes of others. When I make street art, for example, I usually don’t talk to anyone about it beforehand. These pieces are discovered later, through photos, traces .. I’m not really interested in live-painting, I prefer to produce and reveal later.

For example, during exhibition openings I used to escape when visitors arrive. I let them discover the work in the space. It’s not me directly that I reveal but my work, which of course, is also a part of me. I like to disappear and to erase myself through my artworks.

These last few weeks I’ve been working outside in the street, more than in my studio. I really try to choose specific places that connect to the landscape in order to make my art.

LR: We can see that language, words, are also very present in your practice.

LG: Indeed, I don’t always draw. I also like to write … When I make murals, I use a paint brush or marker. I like to use the brush more on the wall. It allows me to feel the space, the movement and textures.

I remember a project I did in Greece last summer. I went for a walk and brought some materials along with me, brushes, oil paints. Sitting in front of a huge wall, I thought about the notion of image. I wondered if it was really more useful than words and language. Spontaneously, I wanted to make a large-scale work. I grabbed a stick of wood to lengthen my brush and paint on this gigantic wall.

Here is what I wrote: “Be alone. Listen to the sound of the sea. Dance “

I was on a remote, wild beach. I thought about the people who would come to the sea and see this message. I imagined them dancing. I thought at that moment of the peace they could find, alone with themselves, in this almost deserted place.

I made other pieces when I returned to Armenia, other messages. For instance, a glorious day spent by the river, away from [the city of] Yerevan. The river flow was forked by a hydro company so that some of the water would flow into large concrete pipes that would produce electricity. Meters and meters of tubing. On one of them I wrote: “Listen to the sound of the river. Dance.”

A suggestion to listen to the water flowing in the tube, to try at least … These tubes completely break the cycle, the natural rhythm, I found it sad. These few words hoped to bring back a little poetry.

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LR: How do you make a living here as an artist?

LG: It’s not easy. When I paint, I’m not thinking about selling my works.

I don’t think they would interest collectors. They are quite dark and people would not necessarily want to exhibit them in their homes. To make an income, I do book illustrations for an agency in New York, mostly children’s books.

Shortly after this interview was done (and prior to publishing), Loussiné GHUKASYAN’s works were on view at the Urban Festival in Yerevan in March 2019, a collaboration initiated by “Visual Gap Gallery” and the Goethe Institute in partnership with the German Embassy, where Loussiné participated in workshops led by a group of street artists from Hamburg, Germany.


 

L’artiste plasticienne Loussiné GHUKASYAN était présentée lors de la dernière exposition d’HAYP Pop Up Gallery, 12|12|12 , en décembre dernier, à Yerevan. Elle a aussi contribué à « Lips of Pride » en 2016 et « Downshift » en 2017 initiés par cette même galerie.

Laure Raffy: Vous avez durant 5 ans étudié le design à l’Académie des Beaux Arts d’État d’Erevan. Que vous a apporté cette formation, en quoi a-t-elle influencé votre démarche et vos choix artistiques?

Loussiné Ghukasyan: Initialement, j’ai déposé ma candidature pour apprendre la gravure. En Arménie, la situation des artistes est assez compliquée. Ce n’est pas évident d’emprunter des chemins différents des schémas traditionnels :exercer une profession qui permette de bien gagner sa vie.

J’ai décidé d’intégrer la fac de design en pensant trouver du travail par la suite. Finalement, j’ai choisi de suivre une autre formation, spécialisée en peinture. Même si le medium me plaisait beaucoup, je ne me reconnaissais pas dans les méthodes d’enseignement, la pédagogie de la formation. Le cadre était assez rigide.

Donc, je prenais mon matériel, je montais au dernier étage, seule, sur la terrasse et je peignais des journées entières avant de redescendre pour présenter mes travaux.

J’ai une anecdote amusante, j’avais l’habitude de laisser du blanc sur mes tableaux, de l’espace. Un jour, un professeur est venu me voir et m’a signalé que j’avais oublié des parties, que l’ensemble de la toile n’étais pas recouvert. Au fur et à mesure je me suis éloignée de cet enseignement de peinture réaliste car il ne me convenait pas vraiment. J’éprouvais un manque, j’avais l’impression de ne pas pouvoir concrétiser mes idées, mes envies. Je me suis ensuite concentrée sur le dessin, qui m’offrait davantage de liberté. Je me sentais plus libre d’utiliser le blanc et le noir, dont je me sens proche.

LR: Vos œuvres sont assez abstraites, vous utilisez des lignes, des traits. On ne devine pas de suite ce(ux) qui se cache(nt) dans ces toiles, c’est peut être en cela que l’on peut trouver vos pièces angoissantes, anxiogènes.

LG: Je pense que la « beauté » relève du premier regard, du coup d’oeil. Ce que l’on découvre ensuite m’intéresse davantage. Je souhaite que mon travail échappe à ce que j’appelle « premier regard », qu’il se concentre sur le second. Mes toiles dévoilent ce qui émane de la forme : le bruit, le vide, l’agitation… Il m’arrive tout de même d’intégrer des couleurs à mes toiles. On trouve notamment du bleu dans mes travaux exposés lors de 12|12|12. L’oeuvre s’appelle même In the Blue. D’ailleurs, il est pour moi difficile de nommer mes travaux. Les titres n’ont pas d’importance dans ma démarche.

Le bleu est une couleur importante pour moi. Il s’agit de la couleur de la nuit, des pensées, de l’eau qui s’écoule sans arrêt.

LR: Pourriez-vous nous parler du contexte dans lequel cette œuvre a été produite ?

LG: Deux des tableaux présentés dans l’installation ont été réalisés lorsque je vivais à Marseille. J’ai peins la troisième toile à mon retour à Erevan. Ces peintures sont la retranscription d’une large palette d’émotions, de rencontres, d’évènements importants… On peut y lire l’agitation, le mouvement, la chute, le trouble. Le sang coulant à toute vitesse dans les veines et le corps au repos, voici ce que j’ai cherché à exprimer.

LR: En quoi consiste la vidéo et qu’apporte-t’-elle au travail?

LG: Ma vidéo dévoile des détails de la vie : les pas des passants dans la rue, leurs pieds, le clignement des yeux d’une femme, tout cela ralenti. On ne prête pas toujours attention aux gestes de la vie quotidienne.

J’ai souhaité jouer avec le contraste peinture / vidéo dans cette installation.

La vidéo est par essence, une image en mouvement. En cela elle contraste avec la peinture, image fixe et immobile. J’ai décidé de ralentir les images de la vidéo et de les projeter sur mes peintures, agitées, sombres, afin d’y apporter du calme, de la lenteur. La seconde partie de ma vidéo, écran blanc, sans image, apporte de la lumière à ma peinture. Seul moment où l’on peut distinguer les toiles précisément.

LR: Vos travaux sont-ils rythmés par des protocoles, d’esquisse, de croquis, par exemple?

LG: Ma pratique est spontanée. Je peins directement mes toiles. Je ne réalise pas d’esquisse préliminaire. J’aime être seule lorsque je peins, j’aime travailler sans le regard de l’autre. Lorsque je réalise des pièces de street art par exemple, je n’en parle généralement à personne. Elles sont découvertes plus tard, au travers de photos, de traces.. Je ne m’intéresse plus vraiment au livepainting, je préfère produire et dévoiler par la suite.

Par exemple, lors des ouvertures d’exposition auxquelles je participe, je m’échappe lorsque les visiteurs arrivent. Je les laisse découvrir le travail dans l’espace. Ce n’est pas moi directement que je dévoile mais mon travail. J’aime disparaître et m’effacer au travers de celui-ci.

Ces derniers temps, je travaille beaucoup dehors, dans la rue, davantage qu’en atelier.

J’essaie vraiment de choisir des endroits précis qui respectent le paysage pour réaliser mes oeuvres.

LR: On peut remarquer que le langage, les mots sont aussi très présents dans votre démarche.

LG: En effet, je ne dessine pas toujours. J’aime aussi écrire…

Lorsque je réalise des muraux, j’utilise des pinceaux ou le marqueur en général.

J’aime utiliser le pinceau sur le mur. Ça me permet de sentir la matière, l’espace, le mouvement. Le feutre ne me permet pas vraiment de distinguer les textures.

Je me souviens d’un projet réalisé en Grèce. J’étais partie marcher un moment. J’avais avec moi du matériel, des pinceaux, de l’huile. Assise devant un immense mur, je réfléchissais à la notion d’image. Je me demandais si elle était vraiment plus utile que les mots et le langage.

Spontanément, j’ai eu envie de réaliser une grande pièce. J’ai saisi un bâton afin d’allonger mon pinceau et pouvoir peindre sur ce mur gigantesque.

Voici ce que j’ai écrit : « Be alone. Listen the sound of the sea. Dance »

Je me trouvais sur une plage éloignée, sauvage, j’ai pensé aux personnes qui pourraient arriver par la mer et voir ce message. Je les imaginais entrain de danser. Je pensais au moment de solitude qu’ils auraient, de retrouvailles avec eux même, dans cet espace presque désert.

J’ai réalisé d’autres inscriptions à mon retour en Arménie, d’autres messages. Notamment ce fameux jour où nous étions sortis d’Erevan pour passer la journée au bord de la rivière. Ce cours d’eau a été divisé en deux par une entreprise de sorte à ce qu’une partie de l’eau s’écoule dans de grands tubes en béton et qu’elle produise de l’électricité. Des mètres et des mètres de tube.

Sur l’un d’eux j’ai inscrit : « Listen to the sound of the river. Dance ». Une incitation à écouter l’eau qui s’écoule dans le tube, essayer du moins… Ces tubes rompent totalement le cycle, le rythme naturel, je trouve ça triste. Ces quelques mots y apporte peut être un peu de poésie.

LR: Comment est-ce que tu t’en sors pour vivre ici en tant qu’artiste?

LG: Ce n’est pas évident. Lorsque je réalise mes toiles, je ne pense pas à les vendre. Je pense d’ailleurs qu’elles n’intéresseraient pas beaucoup de collectionneurs. Elles sont assez sombres et des gens n’auraient pas forcément envie de les exposer chez eux. Pour gagner ma vie, je réalise des illustrations pour des livres, avec une agence installée à NY, des livres jeunesse notamment.

On rencontrait Loussiné GHUKASYAN il y a quelques semaines, à l’Urban Festival , manifestation initié par la Galerie « Visual Gap Gallery » et l’Institut Goethe, où elle participait aux ateliers menés par un collectif d’artistes Hambourgeois.

Interview: HAYP chats with the core team of URVAKAN Festival

You may have heard the buzz about URVAKAN Festival, (“GHOST” Festival in Armenian) a cultural festival that aims to reanimate neglected/phantom urban spaces through music and performance. As a gallery that thrives on bringing art into the public space, HAYP Pop Up couldn’t resist the opportunity to partner when the URVAKAN team invited us to co-curate several site-specific installations at some of the venues. URVAKAN Festival will take place in Yerevan, Armenia from May 3-5, 2019 with a full day and night program principally at the Children’s Railway Station in the Hrazdan Gorge, with other locations still TBA. In an attempt to de-mystify the ghost, we had a little chat with the team behind the magic. Take a look at the below interview for some insider info on who, what, where, and why URVAKAN is happening, and how to book your tickets.


 

HAYP Pop Up Gallery: Let’s start by you guys introducing yourselves. As we understand, you’re quite a big group of creatives, whose on the team and what brought you together?

URVAKAN Festival: That’s true. The core of the team mostly consists of people with Armenian roots, but who actually cares about nationality nowadays? We believe in a world without borders, that’s why our team consists of young creatives currently residing in New York, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and more, with rather different backgrounds: from digital marketing and cultural events, to restaurant business, mobile apps and even beauty salons. Of course, there’s a lot of amazing people from Yerevan helping us – obviously, this couldn’t happen without local expertise. We also inspired some of our international friends who quickly jumped on board and became the puzzle’s missing pieces. All in all, everyone who’s on board is attached to the creative industries and hopes to promote and develop this area in every way possible.

What brought us together? Well, some of us know each other for more than a decade, some got close just several months ago, but our common story starts in December 2018, when the core of the team accidentally visited Armenia. Since then there have been a number of trips around the country, and dozens of new acquaintances that showed us a different side of Armenia. So here we are, trying to bring together our experiences with a humble desire to give back to the country that inspired us so much. With a proper respect to the roots – that’s why the collaboration with the local scene is so important for us and you can see a lot of Armenian artists in the line-up. It’s up to the public to decide if we succeed.

HPG: Why “Urvakan”? Where does the festival name come from, and what format should people expect?

UF: We started by traveling around Armenia. Throughout these trips, we found that aside from historic cultural attractions, the country is filled with numerous astonishing locations that you simply can’t find in a tourist guide. Examples like the Composers’ Creativity House hidden in the mountains of Dilijan, where Dmitri Shostakovich was staying for four years in the 1960’s. His piano is still there – standing in a cold, partly destroyed cottage. Or the Writers’ Resort on the shore of Lake Sevan, a unique example of early Soviet architectural avant-garde, just to name a few. All of them are striking architectural forms, with layered histories and meanings, however, most of them are in a terrible condition, abandoned and forgotten. There’s a certain “ghostly” state of these spaces [which is what the word “urvakan” means], neither “alive” as they were decades ago, nor dead. Something in between. A fascinating, uneasy beauty. We hope that our approach to the festival locations will help investors see these half-abandoned spaces from a different angle – filled with contemporary music of various genres, performance, street and digital art, food markets and whatever else; they have all the potential to become important public spaces in the future. We’d really love to share our vision and show rather than tell that these landmarks are more than cultural heritage, they’re also a great opportunity for the city’s new culture.

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Lake Sevan Writers’ Resort, Armenia.

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Amphitheater at the Composers’ Creativity House (also known as Composers’ Resort) in Dilijan, Armenia.

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Archival image of Yerevan’s Master Plan by Tamanyan exhibiting the importance of parks and greenery to the city’s original urban design.

HPG: Can you tell our readers a little bit about the main location you chose for the festival at the Children’s Railway station? Why this location and what makes it so special to you?

UF: The Yerevan Children’s Railway “Paros”, part of a park named after Abovyan, was built in the 1930’s, designed by architect Mikael Mazmanyan. It turned out to be his last work in Armenia. It was one of the pioneer’s [Soviet Youth organization] railways, which were serviced by children and supposed to raise interest in working on the railway. The railroad loop passes [til this day] through the Hrazdan gorge for 2 km. Alexander Tamanyan, the author of Yerevan’s master [urban] plan, believed that the Hrazdan gorge should be a place of rest for Yerevan residents, giving them the opportunity to enjoy nature and breathe fresh air. He planned for the two tunnels, which are still the shortest path to the railway, to bring fresh air from the gorge to the city center. Isn’t this amazing?

Recently we found old albums with a lot of photos from city holidays, community work days, competitions, concerts held on the railway. This place was truly loved by townsfolk. Nowadays it’s still functioning, however, it’s in a semi-abandoned state. With the help of the city authorities and volunteers we’re going to clean the gorge’s landscape and turn the railway into “Urvakan” city with its own markets, art pieces and three stages celebrating the life-giving power of music.

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View of the Children’s Railway Station as seen descending from the steps of the Hrazdan Gorge gardens.

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The balcony of the Children’s Railway Station looking onto the river canal.

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One of the two tunnels connecting the Hrazdan Gorge to Mashtots Park, in Yerevan City Centre.

HPG: Who will be performing at Urvakan, and in particular, who on the line-up are you most excited about?

UF: Our three-day multifaceted program will feature some outstanding and challenging performances by more than 70 artists from 24 countries. It’s quite hard to pick favourites, but you would most definitely want to come for the opening concert [Friday, May 3], which will feature two pieces by Iranian composer Ata Ebtekar aka “Sote”, and Russian multidisciplinary artist and musician HMOT aka “Stas Sharifullin”. Ata’s “Sacred Horror In Design” is a marvellous audiovisual piece first presented at Berlin’s CTM Festival, which brings together traditional Middle East instruments and current music technologies, featuring Dutch visual artist Tarik Barri (he’s worked with Thom Yorke, Flying Lotus, Robert Henke). Whereas HMOT will present a commissioned, site-specific piece based on Yerevan’s architectural plans, to be performed by a group of local contemporary musicians alongside with Sergey Letov, the Soviet and Russian avant garde / free jazz music legend.

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Photo still from Ata Ebtekar aka SOTE’s “Sacred Horror in Design” audiovisual performance.

As for the rest of the program, there are lots of highlights – both during the day and night programmes. The performance by the one and only Russell Haswell is one you cannot miss for sure. Then, there’s American avant garde music legend Anna Homler, who will play one of her pieces with a little help from another great British artist Rupert Clervaux. You also definitely should catch Italy’s Mana presenting his debut album, just released at Hyperdub, and Egyptian ZULI. The night program is also a big thing: our friends from Moscow’s Gost Zvuk label will perform at the opening party (don’t miss Vtgnike’s live performance – he will present his new album just released on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People- and a lot more. Saturday night [May 4] will feature multiple stages filled with audiovisual shows and current dance music trends. As you can see, there’s a lot to experience! A detailed program will soon be published on our website – urvakan.com.

One important thing to mention is that we really wanted to focus on musicians from Eastern Europe and the Middle East – on those whose voices are often excluded from the global context. There’s a huge underground music scene in Russia, almost unknown to the West. During our research we stumbled upon lots of outstanding talents in Armenia, we have a certain focus on the Iranian scene as well. We believe in the uniting power of music. Last but not least to mention – the whole program is set together by the international group of curators behind Klammklang, Synthposium, Radio Morpheus, Rabitza, Richterfest and other internationally acclaimed new music initiatives.

HPG: You’ve been curating a series of events including the “Alabalanitsa” nights at the Mirzoyan Library, and live streamings with Radio Morpheus. How does this fit into your overall concept and what are you trying to achieve through this?

UF: Besides the festival itself, Urvakan’s mission is to offer a platform for musicians and artists working in Armenia and worldwide through a wealth of year-round projects. Besides “Alabalanitsa” and Radio Morpheus, our curators from Proun Gallery held a “Bring Your Own Beamer” event at the Hay-Art exhibition space. This is just the start, but we’ve already achieved some results in building new formats for connecting between local and foreign creative communities.The most important thing is that all these events give us a chance not only to share our views and experience, but also to receive new, unique knowledge from locals. That’s what Urvakan is about.

HPG: As a group of individuals with a lot of experience in the music and festival industry, what is your vision for the future of such events in Armenia? 

UF: It’s hard to say, we can’t predict the future. But for sure we can invent it together. There’s a great tradition in jazz, classical and popular music, dance music is also becoming a worldwide phenomena, so it’s time to step up with something existing on the margins of these genres. Something that definitely offers a challenging experience, but this experience is quite rewarding as well.

HPG: And on a practical note, where can people go to learn more about URVAKAN and buy tickets?

UF: For the latest news and updates follow our accounts on Facebook, VK, Instagram and Telegram. And, of course, don’t forget to visit our website – urvakan.com – and get your ticket. The early bird main pass tickets are already on sale, and they’re quickly selling out! 


Early Bird Tickets are on sale on Resident Advisor until April 14, 2019.

Tickets also available on Tomsarkgh.

URVAKAN Festival will take place from May 3-5, 2019 at several venues in Yerevan, Armenia. Follow them on social media for more info!

INTERVIEW: “Is Armenia ready for a major art biennale?” Laure Raffy interviews curator Mazdak Faiznia of ICAE 2018

interview by Laure Raffy
photos by Ed Tadevossian, courtesy of ICAE2018 and Shaula International

On the occasion of the ICAE 2018 (International Contemporary Art Exhibition) that took place in Yerevan from September 28-October 28, the HAYP Pop Up team was able to interview curator Mazdak Faiznia, artistic director of the Faiznia Family Foundation (FFF) based in Kermanshah, Iran. The FFF encourages and promotes contemporary art creation nationally and internationally.

Original interview in Italian below.


 

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LR: Could you clarify why you chose “Soundlines” for the exhibition theme, and in particular what is its connection to Armenia?

MF: I guess first off, I’d like to address the notion of silence. Armenians have always been and continue to be, all around the world. Their culture dates back thousands of years, and they’ve contributed greatly [to culture] wherever they’ve been.

I’m Kurdish Iranian and I am aware that Armenians have played a key role in our region as bearers of innovation, cinema, photography, medicine, industry and the arts – but in silence and discretion. Geographically, Armenia is not so big, but its voice is far-reaching.

One of the ICAE ‘s goals was to create a dialogue through artistic and cultural environments in Armenia with the rest of the world. For this reason, I was looking for an element of Armenia’s contemporary history that successfully engaged in international discourse and represented the Armenian voice, and it’s not by chance that I came to the traditional Armenian flute, or “Duduk”. It’s a small instrument with a full voice. Anchored in Armenia’s history, this globally recognised symbol of Armenian identity has been able to dialogue with all forms of music, from pop to rock to electronic music and even classical music since the 1980s.

“Soundlines” is also a reference to the novel Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, which looked at how the oral tradition of Australian Aborigines created a [sonic] map of the territory.

Sound as a metaphor for artistic practice, which places at its core concepts of identity, collective and personal memory, landscape memory, mobility, and international cultural dialogue. Line as sound, as real or mental borders, and also as a formal and conceptual element; idealised maps and their relationship to the territory . This is not unlike how the sound of an Armenian Duduk might integrate itself harmoniously within an orchestra of diverse instruments from the rest of the world. I’m interested in the relationship between sound, identity and tradition.

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LR: How did you make the selection of artists and works in the program, and where did they come from? Did institutions also participate in the exhibit?

MF: The selection of artists and works was based on their relationship to the theme and character of the project, which was shaped for both the Armenian and international publics that would be present during the Francophone Summit in Yerevan. The works were loans from artist studios, the galleries that represent them, and international private Collections and Foundations. 

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LR: Do you plan to renew ICAE next year?

MF: Bringing to life ICAE2018 was arduous, from the complexity of the theme to its production… it was really a “Mission Impossible”, especially considering the scale of the project and the invited international artists. We had very little time, and the added challenge of bringing a world audience to Armenia. If it weren’t for everyone’s support and openness, especially on behalf of the artists, our international and local partners, the incredible efforts of the team and their organisation, it would have been difficult to bring to fruition and it was almost a miracle.

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But miracles aren’t always possible. And so, if a major objective [for Armenia] is to insert Yerevan and the country on the map as a cultural destination for contemporary art, this could be considered a first step. But continuity is essential, and there needs to be a long term program to generate important cultural events like biennales, triennales, and art fairs, and establish infrastructure for museums, foundations, independent and non profit spaces, artists, academies etc, that are globally connected. In order to make all of this happen, there needs to be a program with a vision, and certain synergies that enable the commitment and support on behalf of the public and private sectors. Lastly, it needs to continue – never give up- continue, continue, and continue! 

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In occasione dell’ICAE (International Exhibition of Contemporary Art) tenuto a Erevan il mese scorso, abbiamo avuto la possibilità di intervistare Mazdak Faiznia, curatore della mostra e direttore artistico della Faiznia Family Foundation in Kermanshah, Iran.

intervista da Laure Raffy

foto da Ed Tadevossian per ICAE2018, Courtesy di Shaula International


LR: Potresti specificare come mai hai scelto “Soundlines” come tema, e qual’è il legame particolare con l’Armenia?

MF: Forse la prima cosa che devo dire è proprio il silenzio. In tutti sensi, gli Armeni sono stati e sono [ancora] da per tutto il mondo. Hanno una cultura millenaria, hanno contributo tantissimo dove sono stati, ed in effetti io che sono curdo Iraniano, in Iran gli armeni hanno avuto un ruolo fondamentale nella nostra zona: sono stati i portatori d’innovazione, del cinema, della fotografia, la medicina, l’industria, la cultura e l’arte, ma con un silenzio naturale. L’Armenia geograficamente è un paese non molto grande ma ha una voce ampia.

Uno degli obiettivi di questo evento è [stato di] creare un dialogo tra atmosfera artistica e culturale in Armenia con il resto del mondo. Per cui cercavo un elemento che nella storia contemporanea di questo paese è riuscito a dialogare a livello internazionale, rappresentando la voce dell’Armenia e non per caso sono arrivato al Duduk, il flauto antico e strumento tradizionale Armeno. È uno strumento piccolo ma ha una voce ampia. Il Duduk è ben radicato nella storia ed é riconosciuto come [simbolo di] l’identità Armena in tutto il mondo, ma è riuscito a dialogare con tutte le forme della musica, dalla musica pop al rock alla musica elettronica ed anche nella musica classica soprattutto dopo gli anni 80.

Invece Soundlines evoca “La via dei canti” (The Songlines), il celebre libro di Bruce Chatwin sulla tradizione orale degli aborigeni Australiani da cui deriva una mappatura del territorio. Per cui il suono come una metafora della pratica artistica che mette al centro della sua attenzione concetti importanti come: identità, la memoria collettiva e personale, anche la memoria del paesaggio, la mobilità, ed il dialogo culturale a livello internazionale. La Linea come il Suono, come confini reali o mentali, anche come elemento formale o concettuale, cioè, le mappe ideali ed il rapporto con il territorio. In maniera analoga a quanto avviene in un’orchestra in cui il suono del Duduk Armeno, si integra perfettamente con gli altri strumenti del resto del mondo. [Mi interessa] Questo rapporto tra il suono ed il suo rapporto con l’identità e la tradizione.

LR: Come hai fatto la scelta degli artisti? Hanno partecipato anche delle istituzioni?

MF: La scelta degli artisti e le opere è stato basato sul tema [della mostra] ed il carattere del progetto che è stato creato per l’Armenia e il pubblico Armeno ed anche internazionale che visiterebbe la mostra nel periodo del Summit dei paesi Francofoni a Yerevan. Praticamente le opere provengono dallo studio degli artisti, dalle loro gallerie rappresentanti, e dalle collezioni e fondazioni privati internazionale. 

LR: Ci sarà un altro ICAE per l’anno prossimo?

MF: Per la realizzazione dell’ICAE 2018 – essendo stato un obiettivo arduo da raggiungere, a causa della complessità del tema e della produzione..è stata davvero una “Mission Impossible”, nel senso che considerata la mole del progetto e degli artisti internazionali invitati, il poco tempo [avuto] e la difficoltà di far approdare il mondo in Armenia, se non fosse stato per la disponibilità di tutti e soprattutto degli artisti, i partner internazionali e locali, e lo sforzo incredibile del team e della organizzazione, sarebbe stato difficile da realizzare, quasi quasi è stato un miracolo.

Ma non sempre si possono fare i miracoli. Per cui se l’obbiettivo da raggiungere sarebbe di inserire Yerevan e l’Armenia nella mappa come destinazione culturale per l’arte contemporanea, questo sarebbe un primo passo ma bisogna soprattutto mantenere una continuità, avere un programma di lungo termine, di creare delle rassegne importanti come Biennale, triennale, le fiere, creare le infrastrutture per i musei, le fondazioni, gli spazi indipendenti e non profit, per gli artisti, le Accademia, eccetera, e metterli in contatto a livello internazionale. Per fare tutto questo ci vuole un programma per raggiungere l’obiettivo, [e] creare sinergie per avere l’impegno e il sostegno da parte del settore pubblico e privato, ed alla fine, non mollare. Continuare, continuare e continuare.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About CETI Lab

HAYP Pop Up Gallery is pleased to present “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”, a project combining an artist residency, a collective exhibition and an event week. This will be HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s 10th collective art exhibit in Armenia, and the first to take place at the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory.

The Concept

“CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO” invites artists and scientists to imagine communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. The project takes inspiration from the 1971 CETI conference at BAO, organized by Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovskii, that brought together nobel-prize winning scientists to explore the possibilities of communicating with intelligent life beyond our planet.

From September 16 to 27, 2017 the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO) in Armenia will be transformed with site-specific installation by a group of diverse artists including photographers, architects, sculptors, writers, sound and installation artists. The project also includes a site-specific installation by visiting Berlin-based sound artist Lvis Mejía, at the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, just outside of Byurakan village.

Like the scientists before them, the artists consider the various unknown variables that frame the challenge of communication. Those include technical questions of language, transmission, reception and interaction as well philosophical concerns of free will, perception, and the consequences of successful communication. As we consider our own assumptions of “the other” and the parameters that allow for effective exchange, it becomes increasingly evident that the greatest challenge is in understanding the environment that frames these interactions.

The projects of CETI Lab are studies and explorations on the unique environment that is the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, its lifeforms, ideas and idiosyncrasies.

Participating Artists

Tina Chakarian, Visual Artist (Boston, USA)
Sona Manukyan, Photographer & Architect (Yerevan, Armenia)
Lvis Mejía, Audio Artist (Berlin, Germany)
Karen Mirzoyan, Photographer (Yerevan, Armenia)
Samvel Saghatelian, Painter & Architect (Yerevan, Armenia)
Manan Torosyan, Sculptor & Visual Artist (Yerevan, Armenia)
Gorod Ustinov, Artist Collective (Izhevsk, Russia)
Arto Vaun, poet (Boston, USA)
VHSound, Sound Artist (Yerevan, Armenia)

ARTIST PROJECTS & LOCATIONS

Location: Herouni Radio-Optical Telescope, Orgov, Armenia. 

Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 19:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 19:00.

The unaccountable to the non-observer, by Lvis Mejía
A site-specific installation and contemplative sonic experience on the principle of acoustic feedback.

The Communication Machine, by VHSound
An interactive instrument and public performance on the sound universe of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory.


Location: The Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, Byurakan, Armenia.

Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 20:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 20:00.

“Polychromatic Signals” by Tina Chakarian
A kinetic acrylic polygon.

Do they breathe?by Sona Manukyan
A site-specific installation on reflexive communication.

Intergalactic War Seriesby Karen Mirzoyan
An exploration in the consequences of communication as seen through children image-culture and popular sci-fi narratives.

Contactby Gorod Oustinov
An interactive micro land art installation and collective alien-tracking device.

Homo-Communicationby Samvel Saghatelian
A site-specific installation and study on the meeting point of communication: #TheHole.

“Start and end”, by Manan Torosyan
An outdoor sculpture on the cyclical nature of time and parallel forms of life in the universe.

“The Transgression of Light”, a poem by Arto Vaun
A meditation on the harmony and dissonance between humans and the universe.

PRACTICAL INFO

Locations & Hours of Operation:

The exhibition will last from September 16, 2017 to September 27, 2017

  • The Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, Byurakan, Armenia. Map here.
    Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 20:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 20:00.
  • The Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope, Orgov, Armenia. Map here.
    Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 19:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 19:00.

Transportation:

  • BY CAR: You can easily drive there or get a taxi (around 4,000 one-way from Yerevan). Follow the Google Maps here to go to the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory and the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope.
  • BY HAYP BUS: Departure from Republic Square in Yerevan. Limited seats available, awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. Cost: 1,000 AMD one-way.
    *** Yerevan-Orgov-Byurakan: 13:00, 15:00
    *** Byurakan-Yerevan: 20:00

Exhibition tickets:

Because the Byurakan Observatory and the Herouni Telescope are functioning scientific centers, you absolutely need a ticket to enter the grounds. The ticket is available for free on Eventbrite here.

HAYP takes a trip to the USA…

You may have been wondering what the HAYP Pop Up Gallery team has been up to since our last event in September, “LOVE (ICA) Is electrIC Again”. For the past two weeks HAYP curator and executive director, Anna Gargarian, traveled stateside for work (and a little bit of play) to Boston and New York. Here’s an update by Anna as she reflects on the highlights from her trip: 

New York, New York

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My time in New York was brief but intense. Although neighborhoods and loci of activity shift, the beauty and awesomeness of the city never change. What stood out from my trip were two very different, but equally interesting museums: The Cooper Hewitt Museum, and the Museum of Art and Design (MAD). 

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The Cooper Hewitt re-opened its doors in 2014 at its 5th avenue location, the 64-roomed Andrew Carnegie Mansion; its home ever since 1976. The museum’s historic architecture offers a stark contrast to the touch-screen tables, large-scale projections, and personal design “pens” that allow visitors to engage with historic and contemporary design objects in a unique and interactive museum experience.

 

Tapping the back of your individual “touch pen” to the description of an object allows you to “save” the object to your personally curated collection of online images. The tip of the pen allows you to draw, select, and play on the tables located at the center of the mansion’s main atrium and corridors. Visitors are invited to make and save their own designs inspired by various objects from the collection. 

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The MAD museum was originally founded in 1956 under the name the Museum of Contemporary Crafts. In 2008, the museum reopened under its more catchy name, MAD (the Museum of Art and Design) to embody a broader spectrum of interests that include design, crafts, and artisanal practice, but also architecture, fashion, technology, interior design, and the performing arts. Personally, what stood out was the museum’s display of traditional, artisanal “crafts” (something you’d imagine your grandmother making) in a bold, fresh, and contemporary way. Also unique to this museum is that it not only exhibits works, but also gives you insight into the process of craft making with its open studio artist residencies. 

I loved the exhibit “Toxic Seas” by artists, Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring. The exhibit featured large-scale crocheted coral reefs that often incoorporated bits of plastic and reusable materials as a commentary on the pollution we produce and its effects on the marine environment.

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Also noteworthy, the individual pieces were collectively crocheted by women from all over the world who contributed sections of the work. The feminist undertones of elevating what is traditionally “women’s work” to the museum gallery is an added plus. Each artwork wall label included the names of each contributor and her country of origin. This reminded me of our own feminist, “Craftivist” group in Armenia, “Free the Needle”. Maybe they should get involved? Just a thought…

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Another surprising exhibit was artist, Chris Antemann’s, “Forbidden Fruit”, a collection of risqué ceramic figurines inspired by 18th century ceramic decorative arts. Although I’m not usually partial to the ceramic arts, Antemann’s keen sense of humour, brilliant use of form and color, and her masterful use of a “high society” decorative objects to show “debased” and provocative subject matter were completely engaging and charming. I will think twice before judging ceramic figurines in the future…

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Of course, New York City wouldn’t be complete without some late night adventures with old friends….. so this happened in an abandoned factory somewhere in Brooklyn: 

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Back in the more green lands of Great Barrington, Massachusetts:

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While in my home state of Massachusetts, I travelled westward to Great Barrington (about 2 hours west from Boston) to meet Suzi Banks Baum, the artist I had been Skyping/emailing/facebook messaging for the past three months in order to design and coordinate the upcoming HAYP project, “New Illuminations”. I’ve mentioned Suzi and our project before, but I hadn’t actually physically met her until last week! And what a pleasure…

Suzi is a book artist among many other things. That is, she makes handmade artist books and has been teaching book binding techniques (including coptic stitch binding which she’ll teach at our workshop this November) for many years. For Suzi, handmade books are a unique tool and means of expression for writing, illustrating, and most of all story telling. We are in the process of fundraising for our 4-day workshop and 10-day exhibition in Gyumri this November (donate here!). And another bonus of this visit, I got to reconnect with Dana Walrath, the artist I worked with to curate “Mapping Identity: Figures, Borders, and Nations” for AGBU Exhibitions in Yerevan.

Celebrating 25 years of AIWA

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Arts & Entertainment Panel: Sona Movsesian (Conan O’Brien Presents), Anush Yemenidjian (Hollywood Reporter), Teni Melidonian (The Academy), and Nora Armani (SR Film Festival). Photocredits: AIWA.

Next in Massachusetts was my attendance and participation at the AIWA 25th anniversary conference, a truly amazing three-day event of inspiring talks, presentations, and conversations with women leaders from the US, Armenia, Turkey, Argentina, Lebanon and more. We even had a few celebrity speakers (always fun)!

Panel discussions were divided by category including: Global Leadership and Women, Arts and Entertainment, Entrepreneurship and Business, and Leaders in Politics. Keynote speakers included Linda Hill from the Harvard Business School (one of my favorites), Seline Dogan from the Turkish Parliament, Maro Martirosian of Armenia’s Women’s Resource Center, and Katherine Sarafian, longtime producer at Pixar Animation Studios. 

Re-occuring themes in the talks were: implicit bias and gendered perspectives, approaches to leadership, how to “break the silence” and empower women leaders, and various tools for leveraging one’s skills and how to be an effective leader. 

 

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My panel! Photocredits: Juliana Del Aguila

The speakers were many, and inspiring, and HAYP Pop Up Gallery was thrilled and honored to be a part of the conversation as a member of the “Business and Entrepreneurship” panel. Co-panelists included Hasmik Asatrian-Azoyan of Basen hotels in Sisian, Juliana Del Aguila of Karas Wines, and Vera Manoukian of Starwood Hotels. Our dynamic panel addressed questions like: 1) What are your biggest challenges, and how have you overcome them?, 2) What specificities are unique to your industry? etc.

The AIWA conference ended with a deluxe Gala, complete with awards, inspiring speeches, good food, and dancing. Below is a (blurry) picture from the evening.

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Artist Studio Visit:

And of course my trip to the states wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to an artist studio…. introducing: Marsha Nouritza Odabashian.

Marsha is among the many artists who inhabit Boston’s South End artist district. The space itself was invigorating: a large open studio on the fifth floor of a typical Boston “brown stone” building. Her studio mates include an Italian painter, and an American costume designer and tutu-maker.

Marsha works in oil paint, ceramics, acrylic, and other experimental media and uses just as wide a variety of surfaces for her works, including all types of paper, sponge, canvas, wood and more. Her work explores identity and shows reoccurring motifs of flora and fauna (based on reality but often times distorted into fantastical elements), figural processions, and sewing needles (a commentary on woman’s work that underlies the tool’s dual function as weapon). 

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If you haven’t already noticed, Marsha’s body of work is highly inspired by Armenian manuscripts….so of course a bell went off in my head for HAYP8.0’s “New Illuminations- Codex”. Let me just say that my suitcase back to Yerevan was slightly heavier than when I left…. (hint, hint).

What next?

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Coming up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts is our fundraising event for “New Illuminations”, hosted and organized by artist, Suzi Baum. The fundraiser will be on October 25, 2016 at the Elixir in Great Barrington. Come and join Suzi with an open heart (and an even more open wallet) to learn more about the New Illuminations project.

Meanwhile, in Yerevan the HAYP team will be moving forward full-throtle to find an exhibition space and key partnerships with experts and collaborators in Yerevan and in Gyumri. More coming soon!

Keep checking out the hype with HAYP Pop Up for news on this and many more projects.

Aaaaand we’re back

by Charlotte Poulain


As you may have noticed, HAYP hasn’t been popping up all that often in 2016. Our first project this year (and biggest to date) was Lips of Pride, a collective exhibit focused on women’s sexuality and societal perceptions of shame in Armenia. We haven’t been idle since: we organized an aerial dancing performance by Marcela Perez at 44 SkyBar in June, as well as a full day workshop with HARTAK festival on how to test your business idea with a pop up.

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At the same time, we’ve been working on several projects that will come to life this fall and next spring. Anna’s also been invited to talk about art and entrepreneurship at AIWA’s 25th anniversary conference in Boston this September (‘cause she’s fabulous). Bostonians may even expect to see a pop up in their neighborhood for the occasion (more details coming soon).

…And now the awesome news is: HAYP Pop Up Gallery is back this summer with a major event this Friday! (Facebook event here)

This time around, we’re working in collaboration with the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). For those of you who don’t know it yet, the ICA is a Yerevan-based institution that offers art classes, hosts artists in residence, and curates exhibitions. Their venue on Fizkulturnikner street recently underwent renovation, so their Director and Curator Nazareth Karoyan decided a mural was in order, and they commissioned Yerevan-born artist Samvel Saghatelian for the job.

Back in November, we had worked with Samvel to curate a solo exhibit in the secret back room of a vape shop called Misty Fumes. The exhibition was titled “Enter Through the Smoke Shop” and presented Samvel’s “PolitIcal and Personal Protest signs”, a series of graphic sign boards playing with Latin and Armenian letters. Perhaps the most iconic of these works was “LOVE is electric Է”, created by the artist in June 2015 at the time of the Electric Yerevan protest.

MISTY_FUMES_EXPO

The mural at the ICA is a scaled-up elaboration on that work. Just as this year’s protests have grown in intensity, Samvel Saghatelian’s demand for love has multiplied in scale from hand-held sign board to the entire building facade. Because it deserves to be inaugurated in style, HAYP Pop Up Gallery and the ICA have joined forces to curate the second edition of Samvel Saghatelian’s “Political and Personal Protest Signs”. If you didn’t get to see his works in November for HAYP 5.0, now’s your chance!

Join us for LOVE ICA – is electrIC Again”, the mural’s public inauguration and a HAYP exhibition opening on Friday, August 26 at 7PM, at the ICA (Facebook event here). Wine and music can be enjoyed in the ICA’s garden, and in front of Samvel’s larger than life artwork. Don’t miss out!

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LOCATION:
48 Fizkulturnikner Street (at the end of 5th st in Aygestan district of Yerevan behind Alek Manukyan st).

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Vardavar 2016 – HAYP concepts

Last Sunday, July 3rd, people flooded (pun intended) the streets of Yerevan with buckets, water-guns, water balloons, and other water artilleryin-hand, ready to splash passersby for Vardavar. Vardavar is an Armenian holiday that stems from pagan origins, originally celebrating fertility, good crops, and the goddess Astghik. Today, its just an excuse to shower strangers with water and playfully cool off from Armenias powerful heat. It gets intense, and theres definitely a lot of unfair play that borders on being dangerous, like people getting thrown into the not-so-deep swan lake (sounds like fun – until you break a limb). You either love it or hate it, and for the hatersits recommended to stay indoors.

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For the first time, Armenias beloved TUMO Center for Creative Technologies organized a Vardavar event on its surrounding grounds. TUMOs park and fountains were transformed into a one-day water park for kids and adults alike to celebrate Vardavar with a creative edge. The event theme: a Vardavar GIF day. TUMO invited several companies and organizations to design and set-up their individual game-stands that would engage participants. Each stand was also handed a waterproof iPad so that they could document the action with a GIF. Impact Hub had a large water slide, DEEM communications had an old-school car wash etc.

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View of the TUMO grounds on Vartavar. Photo credits: Gevorg Perkuperyan Photography

HAYP was also invited to participate, and we contacted artist and architect Sona Manukyan to collaborate on a potential water-themed installation piece. We designed several proposals, but in the end, time and funding were too short to carry out the project as we saw fit. Regardless, we spent a lot of time putting together some ideas, and we thought wed share with you our renders and concepts. The area we selected was the TUMO cement bus stop at the park entrance. Here are the ideas we came up with.

IDEA 1: The cloud

Render of the bus stop with a hovering cloud installation:

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This installation had several sources of inspiration. While thinking of water and its cleansing properties, we thought of a work that would send a powerful and positive message concerning the environment. We thought of the transformative properties of water, and also the dire state of pollution in Armenia. The result: a hovering white form within the bus stop frame that from afar would look like a cloud, and from up close, would reveal hundreds of suspended individual objects. On one side, we envisioned droplet-like shapes that would hang from transparent fishing-line string. The materials of these shapes would be white plastic bags, metallic cans, and other white, translucent and/or reflective reusable materials. On the other side, a series of suspended crystals would capture the surrounding light and give the illusion of rainfall or water droplets.

Our renders:

 

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This render shows a matrix of barely-visible fishing line on which each item is fastened.

Conceptually, the cloud shows a transformation of trashinto crystals, in other words the potential for positive change as well as a subtle reference to the economic potential of a green economy. From an experiential perspective, some of the hanging items would be white water balloons, and we hoped that people would play beneath the cloud and pop some balloons.

Some examples of inspiring crystal installations:

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IDEA 2: The Blue Maze

This installation idea utilizes the same location, but features a series of zig-zagging twisted blue sheets of cloth that would connect one side of the bus stop to the other. From a distance, the colorful labyrinth of blue, turquoise, and white cloth intertwined intends to give the illusion of a splashing waterfall or misty haze.

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From an experiential perspective, the maze was intended to be a game in which kids could climb through and over the cloth. The type of material that we were going to select would have been spongy and absorbent, so that as the structure would get wet from the surrounding fun and games, the  sculpture itself would begin to drip as an extra effect.

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In the end, our collaboration was postponed for technical reasons that were mentioned earlier. HAYP is all about having fun, but also while maintaining our mission for supporting and encouraging contemporary art and artists. We simply felt that with the amount of time we had to plan and build, we wouldnt be able to uphold our standard for quality product and work. Regardless, TUMO Vardavar was a successful day of fun and games for kids and families who enjoyed a new twist off of a long-standing local tradition.

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Fun in the park at TUMO. Photo credits: Tumo.org

Summer ‘16 with HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Happy summer everyone! Wondering what’s in the works for HAYP these next few months? Here’s a little insight into our upcoming plans.

What’s the news with FLOW?

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First off, you may have heard of or been wondering about our plans for FLOW, a summer festival for which we have been contacting artists, potential partners and funders for the past year. The project is large-scale and involves several international visual artists, and many international musical performers. The public interest and appeal is there, but the challenges lie in other expected (and unexpected) areas. A primary concern for us is everyone’s safety, especially considering the location’s proximity to the NK border. Due to recent political unrest at the borders, both the HAYP team and some of our sponsors have decided that August 2016 is not an optimal moment. For now the project is temporarily on hold. This news is both disappointing and also a blessing in disguise, as we think more time will give us the opportunity for better results. 

That said, we have other exciting projects in stock. Here’s the line-up:

June 23: A Pop-Up Performance

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Coming soon is an Aerial Dance Performance by Armenian-Argentinian dancer Marcela Perez. You may remember seeing Marcela perform at HAYP back in April 2015 at ANKAPital. Marcela is back from Buenos Aires and HAYP seized the opportunity to collaborate once again. What’s new this time around? We are adding some major height to her act. Marcela will be suspended from above for her aerial choreography, but this time we get to experience her whimsical movements on the rooftop lounge at Opera Suite Hotel.

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The bar is called Forty-Four Sky, and cocktails, food, and hookah are available alongside a spectacular view of Yerevan. Don’t miss out on this one-time special event. There will be a showing on Thursday, June 23rd at 8:30pm and 9:30pm. DJ set to follow.

June 25: HAYP Workshop for HARTAK FESTIVAL

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The second event happening in June is a Pop Up Workshop organized in the framework of the Hartak Festival organized by AEON anti-café. The workshop goal is to guide participants on how to make their ideas happen. This 3-hour workshop will involve a short presentation by HAYP, and especially hands-on work by workshop members. We’ll go over how to thoroughly develop a concept through market research and public feedback, how to seek out partnerships, locations, sponsors and more. We will share our experience and know-how on how to transform an idea into a reality. Join us with an idea, enthusiasm, and ready-to-work energy! More info and sign up available on the Hartak Festival website here. We are waiting for you!

July 3: HAYP for TUMO on VARDAVAR

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HAYP Pop Up Gallery is going to join the Tumo team to celebrate Vardavar 2016, happening this year on July 3rd. HAYP will be among the various collaborators invited to participate at a day full of events, installations and fun in the major park surrounding TUMO center. We will curate a unique art installation inspired by this pagan water festival. More info coming soon, so stay tuned!

 

 

Postcolonial feminist geopolitics: deconstructing gender politics and visual knowledge production in Armenia, Iran and Afghanistan

The below essay was written by Paniz Musawi on the occasion of HAYP Pop Up Gallery sixth exhibition and event series “Lips of Pride”, which focused on women’s sexuality and societal perceptions of shame. Paniz presented her essay in English on April 10, 2016 to a packed and interested audience in Yerevan, Armenia. On-site translation into Armenian was provided by Artashes Emin. Scroll down for a slideshow of images from the presentation.

Paniz Musawi Natanzi is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She holds a BA in Political Science from the Free University of Berlin’s Otto Suhr Institute (2013) and an MSc in Comparative Political Thought from SOAS (2014). Paniz has published in the German daily newspaper taz. die tageszeitung, the French revue l’imparfaite and has a forthcoming book chapter which is going to be published by Hurst & Co and Columbia University Press in 2016. She is currently based in Tehran, Iran, for her fieldwork on “The Gendered Geopolitics of Afghanistani Visual Arts: Visual Knowledge Production in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan in times of On-Going Insecurities and the Construction of the Nation-State”.

Abstract:
The talk examines the potential of visual arts to produce knowledge about embodied experience. Looking at women’s visual artwork in Armenia, Iran and Afghanistan, I first focus on women’s local conditions of art production in the three cases. Second, I link the local and international looking how geopolitical interests have shaped and initiated international intervention and investment into the politics of gender and visual arts in post-Soviet Armenia and post-Taliban Afghanistan in contrast to post-revolutionary Iran. Are local processes of visual art production and the artwork itself influenced by geopolitical scenarios, and if yes, how? What is the potential of visual arts to produce knowledge about local embodied experience in these spaces? Calling for transnational feminist responsibility when producing knowledge about gendered artwork the talk critically points out the power/violence of representation when producing textual and visual knowledge.


“Postcolonial feminist geopolitics: deconstructing gender politics and visual knowledge production in Armenia, Iran and Afghanistan”

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What I am going to talk about is not a “finished” project. Rather, these are initial ideas for future transnational cooperation in our region. I remember when I was little, maybe the age of 12 and I was told that I should not sit cross-legged. That is not how I am supposed to sit like as “a girl “. I didn’t really get the problem at that point, because I thought it was perfectly comfortable. But this “how-to-sit-properly” experience took away the comfort. Apparently, there was something inbetween my legs that I had to keep secret and I became aware of now. And when I close my legs, it will disappear in front of the audience. Just like our period: we are not supposed to say out loud that we have our monthly menstruation. It is shameful to have a red spot on your back, it is shameful to have your tampons and pads openly in the toilet if guests come by. In Iran I began to talk openly about it to my friends and although some, particularly, male friends, still laugh out loud nervously when I talk about my menstruation, I think they are getting used to the idea that my period is nothing to be ashamed of, it can be treated in a ‘private’ or ‘public’ way by me, I should make the choice without feeling ashamed of something: if giving birth is “natural” then my my crossed legs and period should be, too. I would like to add at this point that the discussion about the shaming of female bodies and sexualities are not intrinsically an Asian-conintental phenomenon, but the othering of women also takes place among Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and atheist or agnostic communities throughout the world.

These type of experiences taught me what physical and ideal areas of shame are. Shame is derived from the Germanic word Scham that describes the process of “covering your face”. In Persian sharm, in Armenian amot. I heavily experienced ”shaming” when I moved to Iran to do empirical fieldwork for my doctoral thesis. Walking down the streets in the Bazaar area of Southern Tehran with a Kabuli girlfriend, an older man, maybe in the end of his 60s passed us and told me “Khanoom, eibet malume!” meaning “Lady, your flaw is visible!”. Now, eib means flaw or defect and can be used for both genders. However, he chose to say it to me, whose coat was open and below it I was wearing jeans. So, I decided to shout back in my anger “Why do you look at it? And your trouser are too tight!” I just saw him running away quickly.

The idea of shame divides women into two groups: those who are honourable and those with a lack of honour. This is also why women’s bodies are weapons in war and conflict: in the Armenian Genocide women were sexually humiliated, raped in front of their men, taken into sex slavery and forced to re-marriage by the Ottoman forces in order to intimidate Armenian men before they were killed, similarly to systematic rapes and women’s shaming in former Yugoslavia, mass rapes in Bangladesh during the independence war in 1971 and in Rwanda in 1994. While men were the bearers of ethnicity, women and children were susceptible to assimilation, which started with complete silencing of women and disintegrating them from their ethnic and sectarian community. In Armenia the shaming and sexual violence women experienced in the genocide obviously differs from gendered and sexual violence in contemporary Armenia: while the genocide was supposed to destroy the feeling of Armenian-ness, violence in the domestic and outside in today’s Armenia are patriarchal and misogynist habits that reproduce the subjection of women as less honourable beings than men. And many regard this discriminating social habit as rather normal in today’s world.

But why are women in Armenia, Afghanistan and Iran rather subjected to judgements about shameful behaviour than men? In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler (1999) explains that the idea that gender has a material “substance” is the result of metaphysical a priori statements. The man made categories of man and woman – in the truest sense of the phrase – are considered to have always existed ontologically. For instance, Judaic, Christian and Islamic communities are based on the assumption that heteronormative relations, i.e. the partnership between men and women, are the foundation of a reproductive society enabling the continuing existence of a specific socio-political formation. According to Butler, the idea of what characterises a “men”  and what a “women” is a performance that takes place within the regulatory, productive and compulsory practices of “gender coherence”. These practices have become naturalized. Maybe gender can be imagined as a screenplay, which was written for thousands of years. Each law, each convention and social practice, documents such as medical reports or court decisions added a further statement to the net of statements of the discourse of gender, sex, and desire. As a result of this process of “regulatory practices” we cannot “ do gender” anymore. Gender has already been done for us; the screenplay is written. We shall perform what we were taught to perform. Now, we act shameful when our behavior, attitudes and style challenges the role we have been given by the law of our fathers and mothers. I integrate here mothers, because I assume that the law of the father would not be successful if mothers’ would not cooperate. Mother’s and daughter’s have learned to “bargain with patriarchy”, to put it into Deniz Kandiyoti’s (1988) words, in Armenia, Iran and Afghanistan. I am not saying that our mothers and sisters who live with the law of the father have no agency, but argue that patriarchy is a reciprocal system and is based on regulating female cooperation either through force or by naturalizing gender difference and hierarchy. As paradox as it is, the strategies that establish and normalize women’s subjection are at the same time “means” of her empowerment. Let me give an Armenia specific example: Kaitlin Fertaly (2012) examines in her research on women their movement from the so-called public to the domestic space in the post-Soviet era as a reaction to Soviet politics. Back in the kitchen, women have been praised in their traditional roles as “caretakers” and “mothers” in Armenian households. Fertaly examines how women were able to express themselves from their homes, especially from their kitchens and thereby challenging existing feminist human rights approaches claiming the domestic to be merely a space of oppression and not creativity and production. Fertaly argues that cooking Khash became a tool to appeal to “ ‘public’, national narratives from within their ‘private’ spaces” especially in the 1990s during times when families needed to survive and live with what was available. The enactment of these skills continue to evoke “national feelings of Armenianness and feminine morality”. It is the women’s cooking that makes the sons and fathers of the family strong since women are the “bearers of traditions” and therefore essential for the “reproduction/survival of the nation-state”. Re-reading Foucault and Butler, scholar Saba Mahmood (2005) explains the “paradox of subjectivation” as the “processes and conditions that secure a subject’s subordination” and simultaneously are the tools by which the subject re-creates herself as in the example of women’s housework showed. However, the performance of the role of the mother or daughter, is the “ritualized production (…) under and through constraint”, according to Butler. At the same time the “constraint” preserves “performativity”. This means that performance takes place within the regulatory, productive and compulsory practices of “gender coherence” embedded in the naturalizing “metaphysics of substance”.
How is this related to shame? A women who is not able to cook like me, because she tries to spend her time as an active member of the so-called public sphere as many of you by producing artwork, curating and creating in other ways, is shameful, because she does not provide for the nation-state in the traditional way, but is taking over a place in culture, politics, economy which are all still male-dominated homosocial spaces. When performing gender we reproduce “reality” by our clothing and movements, however, we simultaneously change it by breaking dichotomous ideas of what a real man is supposed to be like and a proper woman. So, we tackle shame through our very individual performance of gender.

Now, feminist geopolitics has developed from these poststructurally informed ideas that focus on knowledge-power relations and have been than complemented by postcolonial approaches that compare processes of knowledge production, i.e. epistemology, about a people and the realities of these people, i.e. their ontology. The latter has become essential in order to de-centre the focus on the state and relate it to local everyday life practices, regional power constellations and international decision-makings since all these together shape our embodied experience. What I find personally most attractive about critical and feminist geopolitics is, as Deborah Dixon (2015), one of the main theorists of this way of thought explains, how it undermines the authoritative status of textual work allowing to consider “other modes of thought” in academia such as visual artwork, as I argue. However, as Deborah importantly highlights, even a critical postcolonial feminist geopolitics is historically and geographically already located.
So keeping that in mind, I argue that women’s arts is a way to deal with issues of sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence. However, the artwork does not necessarily need to be linked to female sexuality. It can, but it does not have to simply because you identify as a woman. I will later explain when talking about Afghanistan, why I emphasise this point.
By visualising embodied experience the women artist materialises through an artistic lens observed and experienced realities of local lifes. Although some might feel offended and provoked, and this is and should be one of the purposes of art, when seeing vaginas, pink pussies and open-legged women, the very exhibition of these works resists the one-dimensional, discriminating and violent idea of the pure and proper honorable women. I can be honorable and sit cross-legged. What is between my legs should not be the only component defining my moral and capacity to act in a human manner.

To embed this women-focused HAYP exhibition into Armenia’s national, regional and international place in geo-politics. On the geopolitical level, post-9/11 Washington expressed increasingly its dissatisfaction about the regionally functioning Iran-Armenia relations and increased its presence in the Caucasus. Iran had become the second largest investor in Armenian economy in 1996. Since 2006 the Armenia-Iran gas pipeline is being build. At the same time Tehran criticised Armenias diplomacy trying to get along with the US, Russia, Iran and other regional major powers. In February 2002 the US deployed up to 200 Special Force troops to Georgia which was the first US military deployment to the Southern Caucasus since the end of the cold war. In March, the US turned to Armenia and a time of intensified military relations begins during which the US also built the second-largest US embassy worldwide in Yerevan after Baghdad. Also, in 2002 the UNDP office in Armenia established the UN Thematic Group on Gender and Development to discuss issues concerning women in Armenia. Neither western feminists nor Soviet ideology was succesful in implementing their ideas of gender relations: primarily because both underestimated the history, culture and social difference that determines how issues are addressed and resolved in different societies.

On a national and local level during the so-called dark years of the 1990s, Armenia struggled with the lack of gas, electricity and goods, the number of local aid organisations and NGOs increased. A development, that we can also observe in Kabul, Afghanistan: The military invasion and on-going “colonial presence”, as human geographer Derek Gregory calls it, in Afghanistan was framed by the mission to rescue “Afghan women” and “girls” (UNSCR 1214; UNSCR 1267) from the repression of the Taliban. Since 2001, foreign investments, NGOs, and aid organisations have developed Kabul into a transnational space in which women are “key sites”, as feminist geographer Jennifer Fluri (2012) argues, showcasing western nation-state-building processes as the judicial, socio-political and economic model of justice. A process which took also place in Armenia, however less visible in international media since Armenia as a dominantly Christian country is not part of the Muslim “axis-of evil”, as Bush used to describe amongst others Iran, but a geopolitically valuable place from which to show presence in the region. However, liberal peace-building creates predicaments of legitimacy and “multiple tensions between local and global players” who have quite different ideas of what the state-building process should look like and how gender politics should be made. Armine Ishkanian (2007) explains that gender became a battlefield in post-Soviet countries, because it was one of the issues of direct confrontation between capitalism and socialism. In both countries, the number of gender-related NGOs increased during the post-Soviet and post-Taliban era. A gender political issue such as domestic violence is in all three countries highly present, however, despite grassroots activisms domestic violence remains one of the biggest challenges in the struggle against gender-based and sexual violence. In Iran, the Islamic Revolution introduced a regression in regards of gender politics – especially with regards to the right of free bodily movement – although it provided many ways for women to participate in the construction and promotion of the Islamic nation-state: for instance, after the Iran-Iraq-war the “new [revolutionary] Shi’i women with pride” began to rise in urban spaces. There is for instance the Khaharan-e Zeynab (Zeynab’s sisters): these “young and educated” vice squads, who are armed, but not allowed to fight, control women’s behaviour and outward appearance in urban spaces. Now, in contrast to Iran where the ideology of the Islamic Republic in regards to the role of women in society was implemented by force from above, but also with the support of the masses, Armenia and Afghanistan did not have a broadbased grassroots movement calling for a specific gender ideology. This task was taken over by western feminists and individuals from the diaspora. In Armenia domestic violence became an issue addressed by women’s rights and human rights NGOs in the early 2000s, according to Ishkarian. However, similar to Afghanistan, these campaigns were perceived as imposed by the west and resistance arose to US AID campaigns in Armenia while US institutional presence in Iran has not been existing since 1979. What was a private issue to many Armenian men became publicised, but the topic did not came up in a process of discursive contestation, in other words it was not discussed by Armenian society but implemented from above by western feminists who provided policy recommendations and defined the problem. Feminists did fail to understand the local context and integrating locals from the very beginning into gender politics; this might have been amongst others because Armenian women were rather perceived as passive victims of patriarchy and not considered in their diversity as active within and outside the household, as I tried to highlight with the Khash example of Fertaly. Anti-domestic violence campaigns were perceived by many as attacks on the importance of the Armenian in the nation-state. Hence, as Ishkarian argues, local Armenians issue with campaigns such as domestic violence is not to argue that it does not exist, but how it is framed by western donors and experts today. I would argue that in this regard Armenia differs from Afghanistan where the national law is challenged by the Pashtunwali, the rule of law of the Pashto, with misogynist rules that are customary law. In Iran, Islamic law provides certain securities for women, however, they are not given in order to create equality, but to sustain gender difference. The law itself is conceptualised in an extremely gendered way making it rather impossible for women human rights lawayers and feminists to become active, because their acts might be understood as an action against the state.
In Afghanistan, Armenia and Iran, the constitution provides legal equality among the genders, however, often people either do not know their rights or cannot make use of them. In all three countries, woman are the bearer of the honor of a family. Also, it is the family which is the most important smallest unit in society, not the individual as in neoliberal western societies. However, neither in Iran, Afghanistan nor Armenia there has been a coherent women’s or feminist movement since Armenia’s independence, Iran’s Islamic revolution and Afghanistan’s invasion by the US. The medium where women issues have been visualised and brought into the attention of people on a local and international level was women’s art therefore. Women’s modern arts has become a channel, a tool to talk socio-politically.
In order to conduct a responsible and critical postcolonial feminist geopolitics approach it is necessary to consider how “embodied epistemologies”, as the geopolitical feminist thinker Jennifer Hyndman (2004; 2007) calls it, shape the specificities of embodied experience. Hyndman explains that “embodied vision” which is “ontologically committed, partial perspectives” can have the “potential” to undermine prevailing “geopolitical narratives” and can possiby also have an actual impact on those people who are actors in the visualised scenarios. I argue that, women’s contemporary and modern arts has the potential to produce visual embodied epistemology which prevails and undermines women’s representations in Iran, Armenia and Afghanistan. While women artists in Armenia can legally thematise sexuality in their work, Iranian artists are limited in their expression if they want to exhibit in public. In Kabul, women artists are officially not subjected to strong censorship, however, they have to learn to self-censor themselves for their own protection. Nevertheless, women artists in Afghanistan have thematised through nudity female sexuality, but with the risk of being followed up by the Taliban such as in the case of Kubra Khademi and Malina Suliman who are now living in Europe. So, after having drawn the local, national and geopolitical scenario in which women produce visual arts let’s look now in more detail at women’s artwork and art history in the three countries and the potential of visual arts to produce knowledge about embodied female experience.
Women’s visual arts in post-revolutionary Iran, post-Soviet Armenia and post-Taliban Afghanistan

Iran

The institutionalisation of art through formal education systems promoted by the state emerged in the 20th century during a period of idealisation of western industrialisation and the idea of modernism in the Middle East and North Africa including Afghanistan. The Arab-Iranian modern art scenes have in common that the struggle between tradition and modernity characterised much of the work throughout the 20th century. Contemporary, fine and modern arts emerged when monarchies from North Africa to central Asia glorified western lifestyles, art and literature, promoting a kind of occidentalisation of artistic techniques and styles existing on the Asian continent, as art-historian Afsaneh Najamabadi explains. Today, the massive immigration of artists as a result of war, conflict and regime changes has encouraged the development of a a new diasporic art scene that is often shaped by the unrest in the region and the commercialisation of artwork in the neoliberal art market haing in this region its heart in Dubai. The contemporary art scene in Iran, meanwhile, has become established due to the political stability of the country since the end of the Iran-Iraq war. The contemporary art scenes thrives in public and domestic spaces.

Institutional manifestation of modern and contemporary art in Iran, was initiated by Farah Diba, the Shah’s third and final wife, by the foundation of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMOCA) before the Islamic Revolution and was part of the state’s modernization project that started during the Qajar dynasty. During the Islamic revolution the museum was closed, but reopened in the late 1990s. The new governing class can control the museum while the curators of the museum can resist in subtile ways the ruling state apparatus through the deconstructive and critical capabilties of contemporary art. Exemplifying the significance of age and generational difference in the context of young Iranian artists’ work, Daneshvari’s (2013) essay on the “art of the new generation”, i.e. individuals born post-1979, engages with the work of a “new” era. Daneshvari argues that the work of the contemporary artists is “fundamentally ontological”: it depicts “doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity regarding structures of knowledge, knowing and the veracity of historical narratives”. The works suggest that the “real identity” of subjects remains invisible or erased by the state. Before we take a closer look at Iranian women’s artwork let’s go a step back: In Central Europe, the most discussed, fantasised and visualised gendered space has been that of the Middle Eastern and North African “harem” during the 18th and 19th century. The harem was a recurring trope of European Orientalist painting and literature, which fictionalised the “Oriental” women’s sexuality. The de-mystification of the “Orientalised Oriental” that Edward Said (1979) describes in Orientalism unveils a colonial discourse that created over centuries until today’s neo-colonial era of on-going political, economic and cultural interferences, an essentialist idea of passive and silent “Oriental” female bodies. As the allegedly ‘post-colonial’ mission is about uncovering power relations between coloniser and colonised it fails to rethink the socio-political and economic continuities and changes of this relation in the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. As political geographer Derek Gregory (2004) explains, the “colonial presence” though is not just shaped through political, military and international legal action, but also by cultural practices that infiltrate local cultural images and practices. In the colonial mind-frame the female body as “the standard-bearer of the nation’s culture”, according to Bulbeck, became the measure of backwardness or civilisation. While Orientalist painting presented a sexualised image of “Oriental” women, neo-Orientalist artworks of the 20th and 21st century represent, especially Muslim women, through a visualisation of patriarchal violence on women’s bodies. A case in point is the work of Shirin Neshat, a celebrated artist in Euro-America. Neshat has extensively engaged with the chador (Farsi for tent), a veil that covers everything but the face, and the women bodies in her artwork. The artist, who since 1975, has been residing in the US, has gained fame for her work in the West with her black and white photographic series, Women of Allah depicting weapons and veiled women whose bodies are inscribed in Farsi calligraphy. While being very expressive, the narrative of Neshat’s series represents Iranian women in the Islamic Republic as mere subjects of paternalistic and military violence. In this way, in all its aesthetic power, reproduces the “totalising – and silencing – tendencies” that Said (1979) describes in Orientalism: as a diasporic artwork the photographies represent the artists personal perception of her country of origin. While in Tehran this work is perceived among artists as reductive and one-dimensional, not grasping the diversity of women experiences in Iran, it rather speaks to the western gaze linking Islam and Iran, even before 9/11, to pure violence. The women in Neshat’s work has no agency and remains speechless in the same way that the sexualised women bodies in European Orientalist paintings remain silent and passive. As art historian Hamid Keshmirshekan (2013) notes about Iranian diaspora artists, their works are critical engagements with “questions of context, identity, critical interpretation of ‘self’ and ‘other’ and cultural memory” often resulting in “socio-political commentaries” based on the artist’s “personal narrative”. What is perceived in Europe and North America then as a representation of Muslim women denies the different roles women have played in public and in the private sphere of the domestic space in Iran. Also, it creates the impression that all Iranian women, are Shia Muslims, rendering impossible the various ethnic groups and migrants living in Iran. The visual knowledge provided by the diasporic artist differs from local Iranian artwork. The position from which the woman artists produces art, hence, matters and makes it necessary for the feminist researcher to situate the artwork in international, regional and local artistic discourses. Despite shifting meanings of artwork depending on where and by whom it is being read, one cannot deny the necessity to tackle gender-based and sexual violence through art. Particularly, in today’s Tehran, issues such as sexual harassment on the streets and in private, discrimination of women at work and in university and domestic violence are social issues that need to be highlighted to create an atmosphere of solidarity and cooperation among male and female residents of the capital city that is home to over 8 Million people.
An analysis of arts potential to create knowledge can help to examine whether visual arts can be a strategy to materialise and visualise “embodied” experiences, as feminist geopolitical thinker Hyndman (2004) describes knowledges from zones of war and conflict – also in the case of post-war Iran. Hyndman argues that the analysis of “embodied vision” which provides “ontologically committed, partial perspectives” can have the “potential” to undermine prevailing one-dimensional “geopolitical narratives”.

The veil is the most visible object of observation. The Iranian sovereign power, embodied by Ayatollah Khomeini, declared the “hejab edict” in 1979 (Sedghi, 2007). The sovereign transferred the power of policing women – this means that also children who show early breast development can be concerned – to women. The women not adjusting to the Islamic women’s code of conduct are labelled as “bad-hijabis”. Mir-Hosseini (1996) suggests, in light of the attention that the sovereign power gives the bad-hijabis, that
“(…) hejab has its own payoffs; and in the context of social life in Iran today it is an empowering tool for women. (…) In a bizarre way, hejab has even empowered those whom it was meant to restrain: Westernized middle class women”.
The bad-hijabis ridicule the sovereign’s obsession with modesty by using their “power and potential threat in such mockery”, explains Mir-Hosseini. Their individual behaviour weakens the institutionalization of veiling. Naghibi (2007) supports Mir-Hosseini writing that she crystallizes how “(…) the bad-hijabi’s creative interpretation, indeed subversion, of state-enforced ideals of Islamic modesty (…)” show the resisting force of everyday practices. Iranian women’s ways of fashioning their bodies are extremely diverse: from the doll-like bad-hijabi in Iran they are called in urban Persian “palang” meaning leopard – to the modestly dressed, all these women have agency, however they are embedded in national and international political and economical systems of knowledge and power. The Iranian artist Homa Arkani visualized the first mentioned female style in her exhibition “Share Me”.
Her exhibition shows “young girls” of the Iranian middle- and upper-middle-class living in their “fantastic world”. The girls are all bad-hijabis according to the sovereign’s definition and the “stereotypical adolescent city girl in today Iran”. The individuals share “vanity, overindulgence, artificiality, extravagance” (Moussavi-Aghdam, 2014).
Nevertheless, Arkani’s women are all veiled to a certain extent: they are subjects of the Iranian sovereign power, in other words the nation-state’s rule of law, and neoliberal market forces. But the physical veil has become an accessory in “Share Me”: a young woman looks seductively to the side and takes a “selfie” of herself in the mirror of the lift. Her black hair falls out in the back and in the front. The girl’s facial expression is for the camera and supposed to be cool yet sexy. In the background one sees that this picture was uploaded on Facebook in order to be shared. The woman makes herself a spectacle in a non-spectacular environment. In another piece Arkani depicts uniform wearing young women, probably students, attempting to sustain their image in a toilet mirror. They inject bottox into their faces as if they are putting on make-up. Moussavi-Aghdam (2014) explains

“These doll-like girls yearn to have a Western lifestyle: luxurious, high-tech, liberating, joyful, colourful and beautiful. Such a wish, however, can never be carried out, since, on the one hand, it is not possible for them to ignore or escape from their traditional background; and on the other hand they are the consumers of a distorted image of the West, i.e., such a world does not factually exist.”

The geopolitical and national context of Iranian modern and contemporary art’s differs from the emergence of these visual arts in Afghanistan in times of on-going insecurity and the construction of the nation-state.
Afghanistan

Contemporary women artists in Afghanistan received wide attention with the reconstruction of the Afghan nation-state and liberal peace building in the years succeeding the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Not primarily for the quality of their art, but for the fact that they were female residents of post-Taliban Afghanistan. While the quality of the artwork has strongly increased throughout the past 14 years, the instrumentalisation of women’s art has not. The textual and visual work of Afghan-US-American artist and scholar Amanullah Mojadidi shows that engagements with the blue chadari (Dari-Farsi word for burqa), or the use of graffiti is “co-opted and instrumentalized” by western governments and donors (Mojadidi quoted in Montagu 2014; see also: Mojadidi quoted in Burke, 2011) since women artists are perceived as symbols of progress and civilisation. Again, women are the standard-measure of progress always in reference to Euro-American ideas of women’s emancipation.

Due to war and conflict Afghanistan’s history of art was violently interrupted in 1979. Before, fine arts were practiced but not engaged with in scholarly studies. Most arts discourses were located within archaeology and the study of ancient arts. The motto of the Kabul Museum, “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive” reminds of the relation between art and the nation-state, as the first shapes the latter (Massoudi, 2008). This definition links Afghanistan’s cultural heritage of the past to the present to justify the Afghan nation of the future. Hence, the following thoughts do not just point a finger at the colonial powers in Afghanistan, but also interests of the elite to reconstruct the nation-state.
Shahrani, who write before the Saur Revolution of 1978, argues that the quality and status of art increased due to Germany and the US’ teaching influences denying Afghan art practices that existed before its art historic interaction with Europe in the 19th century (Farhad, 2010). Many Afghan students were taught western knowledge in their education abroad and late came back to teach in Afghanistan (Shahrani, 1978). The art institutes in Kabul, the Kabul School of Fine Arts, which was founded by the famous Afghan artist Maimanagi, and the Creative Art Center at Kabul Darul Malemin are named as the two major and only art institutions led by foreigners. The Germans have led and shaped the Kabul School of Fine Arts, for instance (ibid.). But art teachers were also from countries of west and South Asia such as Iran, Turkey and India. However, the geopolitical scenario has changed and while the explicit support of women arts was not a concern of discussion in the first half of the twentieth century, it is today. However, it is important to note that the history of western investments in Afghan art are not a novelty such as Germany’s funding for the opening of the Centre Contemporary Art Afghanistan (CCAA) in 2004. In the abovementioned geopolitical scenario, Omerzad, artist, curator, lecturer at Kabul University and founder of the first space for CA in Kabul, the CCAA, opened the space primarily for women in 2004 (Omerzad, 2014; Oates, 2009:14). To set up the center Omerzad received funding from the Goethe Institut in Kabul (Recchia and Tugnoli, 2014). On the opening day about 200 women came to become members. While Omerzad created the center primarily for young women to participate in the “Female Artistic Center” (Oates, 2009) men were also allowed in gradually but they are a minority in the CCAA (Noora, 2014). In 2008, the CCAA organised the first “Female Painting and Modern Painting Exhibition” in Afghanistan funded by the Women of the World (Omerzad, 2013; Oates, 2009:13-14). As Omerzad highlighted in his speech on the opening event the artists were first, female, and second, young women between 16 and 25 years old. Most of them did not have an artistic education (Omerzad, 2013).
In light of the tradition of replication and the preference for naturalism, today’s contemporary art scene is a novelty since it “disrupted” (Enwezor, 2007) the tradition of replication on canvas. However, looking at the agenda of donors funding women artists, CA seems less disrupting: the funding of women artists’ visual engagement with “women rights” continues the replication of what the liberalising eye expects to see, in this case, supressed women who raise their voice through visual means. It seems that certain contemporary works of art use the visual to produce knowledge about issues of local and international relevance that visualise the role and position of Afghans and Afghanistan in the geopolitical tension field. However, it becomes really hard to judge whether the artwork was made by the artists out of an artistic agency or because an UN official in Kabul asked the CCAA to organise a further exhibition with women’s artwork about gender-based violence marginalising the diversity of issues, largening the gap among artists who cooperate with the kharejis (foreigners) in Kabul and those who try to avoid to depend on them. Promoting ‘Afghan art’ made by “Afghan women” creates an image of Afghanistan that Europe and the US “would like” to see in the war-torn and conflict-ridden country, argues Mojadidi. He describes the trend to promote art in contexts of conflict, violence and occupation as “conflict chic” (Mojadidi, 2014) that invests into the instrumentalization and commodification of CA (see also: Montagu, 2014). Both, Mojadidi and Omerzad are contemporary artists, but with differently expectations of art: Omerzad is promoting art for patriotic reasons (Omerzad, 2014) while Mojadidi critically represents contemporary Afghan art on the international art stage. Both, are actively resisting the instrumentalisation of women’s CA while emphasising the opportunities that the art scene opens up for young women artists. I mentioned earlier why women artists’ work does not necessarily need to be “female” or engage with issues of female sexuality simply, because assuming that women make “female” art we – as researchers, journalists and writers categorize before the artists even had the chance to speak for themselves. My research in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan on Afghanistani artists has shown up to now that many women engage with questions of home, belonging and violence that can be examined from a gendered perspective, but not exclusively.

In today’s Kabul the relation between contemporary and the nation is twofold: on the one hand, contemporary art can be imagined as a critical tool promoting discussions among Afghanistan’s artists of younger and older generations. On the other hand, “cultural nationalism”, or as Omerzad would probably describe it ‘patriotism’, can be misused by agents of liberal peace by supporting the depiction of the plight of women in Afghanistan and thereby replicating the one-dimensional idea of the surpressed Afghan woman.
Armenia

So, my areas of research in the past wo years have been Iran and Afghanistan. I am looking now at Armenia and hope to continue the discussion with you together since I am not an expert at all and am looking forward to learning from you and begin a long-term conversation and cooperation on a trans-national. This can help since the lack of literature on Armenian art, women’s art and its place in the region have not been studied yet enough apart from in Armenian. In order to learn about the art scenes here we need to bring together our knowledges and produce feminist works about Armenia’s modern and contemporary art from various perspectives.

Armenia is a small but culturally rich people (first cinema in Iran opened in Tabriz by an Armenian). Armenian art developed independently of the developments in other Soviet states. It has in common with other Soviet states that modern and contemporary art functioned as a form of resistance to the art of Soviet socialism, according to Angela Hartyunyan (2008). Armenia was the first Soviet country where modern and contemporary art emerged in public. The Museum Modern Art in Yerevan which was founded in 1972 had its first exhibiton showing works of the artists of 1960s both from Armenia and Diaspora.

In the post-Soviet period, the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art, which describes itself as a nonprofit foundation became active in Armenia since 1992 and was founded by New York artist and poet Sonia Balassanian, with her husband, architect and planner Edward Balassanian (Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art 2016). It was officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Armenia and the United States in 1994. The ACCEA introduced Armenian artists to the international art market and organized the first official participation of Armenia at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Starting in 2011, the Government of Armenia took over Armenia’s participation in Venice directly. Since April 1996, ACCEA is working at a centrally located space provided by the Government of Armenia. Although the ACCEA enjoyed governemental support, this was not the case for others: there is a lack of gallery space, artists complain about divisions among artists, a lack of money and governemental support for modern and contemporary arts, as Karine Aghanjanyan cites art critic Eva Khachatryan (Aghajanyan 2015). The condition seems similarl to what artists told me in Iran and Afghanistan in interviews. An NGO such as HAYP hence supports the struggle to make women’s visual arts visible within the societal scene and easy accesible as an open space.
Apart from diaspora artistic activities in Armenia, Hartyunyan (2008) reminds of the artist group “Act” which was active in Armenia from 1994-1996 and called for political participation communicating this visually through arts. Artists such as David Kareyan, Diana Grigoryan and others were part of this movement. For instance the group organised a march during the voting for the first constitution in 1995 from the stature of the modern painter Martiros Saryan to the Museum of Modern Art linking modern art’s history in the country with the use of art as a tool of socio-political and economic articulation. Hence, “art” was used “as a political oppositional action” and put Armenian artists between “deploying revolutionary avant-gardist strategies to negate and radically transform the dominant social order whilst at the same time employing modernist formal experiments of subverting art and adopting a post-modernist scepticism about the notion of the subject as having any agency or free will.”. However, as Hartyunyan explains, these projects were carried out exclusively “within the space of art as institution with a view to entering the global market and embracing its value system” and did not result in a broader societal process of raising awareness.
Conclusion

Modern and contemporary arts have been supported by all three states to very various extents. While the Iranian state owns a precious contemporary and modern collections, remainings from Pahlavi era including international pieces by for instance Warhol and Pollock, it also possess Iranian artworks of which many are in the archives of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. While Tehran has a relatively high number of private galleries, artists lack funding and work spaces and have to consider appropriateness in their artworks in order to be able to exhibit works in public. Visual censorship, however, has lead to creative results and critical artistic engagements which have established themselves in the international art market and increased the presence of “Iranian arts” from Dubai to London and New York. Although the ACCEA has received space from the government, artists in Yerevan also struggle with financial support, lack of space and supportive networks. While Armenia and Iran do not suffer of political violence and on-going insecurities such as artists in Afghanistan, the latter had throughout the last ten years, since the fall of the Taliban and the beginning of the US’ “war against terror” enjoyed financial support in short-term projects by international organisations and NGOs. Although foreign NGOs have been influencing gender politics in Armenia, there has not been a determined support for Armenian women artists as their has been in Afghanistan; neither Armenian women artists were integrated to the same amount into the international art market as in the case of Iran. The politics of gender and the politics of visual arts while being highly intertwined in Afghanistan, remain rather separate spheres in Armenia despite the increased presence of the US and international organisations and NGOs in the country since the beginning of the 2000s. These developments might be due to the sensationalism surrounding artwork from regions dominantly inhabited by Muslims and regions of war and conflict. In this game Armenia seems to be rather associated with its shared religious heritage with the west. At the same time, gendered and sexual violence and social forms of exclusion through shaming in Armenia show that misogyny and gendered violence are not intrinsically related to a specific religion such as Islam or Christianity, but a social attitude. And this is where grassroots groups, activists and networks can create awareness and change.

The exclusive focus on one social group leads to the exclusion of other embodied experiences such as queered and racialised and/or class- or age-related experiences and ableism. Therefore, first, the talk aimed to shape a transnational feminist responsibility when producing knowledge about gendered artwork. I pointed out the power/violence of representation when producing textual and visual knowledges. Second, there needs to be on-going conversation among us about the visualisation of gendering, shaming, discrimination and gendered violence through art by contextualising it. We need exactly these type of platforms, as here at HAYP, to connect, exchange and plan in order to learn with and from each other. The artwork should not on the very first sight be considered to represent anyone else but the artist’s embodied experience of being and observations of (gendered) lifestyles in the city.

Let me embed this project into a larger context: When I was preparing this talk I came a cross a book named “Saving shame” by Virginia Burrus. I read “Shaving Shame”- yes, Freudian slip – and thought: in order to confront the ideas of female shaming we cannot shave misogyny, sexism and gendered injustices away, because as we know our hair growth it grows back and is thicker and blacker than ever. We need to find a way to tackle the root together. Lazer away the roots of misogynism and gender-based discrimination and sexual violence. Doing research as a young woman researcher I figured out for myself that confronting men makes me feel stronger and also men and women around me. Let’s get louder. We work on similar issues through different mediums: the women artist has the potential to be a visual ethnographer, but there is no force to be just this. Since both the artist and the academic produce knowledge through visuals, art is as an “alternative form of knowledge production” about being in this world. And we can use it to shout back.

Paniz Musawi

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