PARIS — Earlier this year, Hyperallergic featured a lengthy article by researchers Simon Maghakyan and Sarah Pickman that exposed the destruction of Armenian historical monuments by the Azerbaijan government in the Nakhichevan region (though the Azerbaijan government still claims it to be “fake news”). This destruction included 3,000 khachkars at the old cemetery of Djulfa. Khachkars are carved stones that prominently feature a cross surrounded by elaborate botanical motifs, which hold a memorial function and were added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010. For many, Maghakyan and Pickman’s article was the first introduction to the largely unknown history of adversity, displacement, and erasure that Armenian identity has experienced.
On view at the Parisian Galerie Eric Dupont is Three Trees, an exhibition that draws from this history, a solo display of works by the well-known French artist Pascal Convert. Convert traveled to Armenia in the summer of 2018 in collaboration with the human heritage organization ICONEM and conducted research on surviving khachkars at various Armenian monasteries, including those of Geghard, Haghpat, and Sanahin. In France, Convert is known for a commitment to cultural heritage, which the artist explores through research, travel, and conversations with prominent scholars such as Georges Didi-Huberman. A previous project by the artist centered around the destruction of Buddhas from Bamyan in Afghanistan. Convert is also celebrated for his monument to the hostages and resistance fighters in Mont-Valérien during World War II. Convert’s original plan was to visit Djulfa, a Christian Armenian cemetery that originally housed the majority of khachkars (around 10,000), but the area was inaccessible due to ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and the breakaway Republic of Artsakh. However, the artist was able to (literally) get his hands on one khachkar saved from the destruction at the Djulfa cemetery and preserved in the Armenian Apostolic Church in Etchmiadzin and a few others from Haghpat and Geghard.
Exhibited in the spacious gallery on Rue du Temple, Convert used the khachkar to create a large frottage drawing, by placing the stone beneath a sheet of paper and rubbing the shapes and textures with a pencil, thereby creating an exact index/imprint of the stone. Convert later translated this drawing into a print, which interestingly captures the surface in higher detail than the frottage drawing, as the relief resulting from the rubbing process on the drawing is not as easily visible to the eye.
Featured most prominently on the center wall in the back of the gallery is a series of ten platinum-palladium prints which Convert made through a complex contacted printing technique invented in 1880 that is barely used today (mainly because it is very expensive). The prints read like negatives of aerial views, capturing the pattern of crosses that were carved on the wall surface of the Gerhard and Hagphat Monasteries in Armenia.
A video compilation that Convert made of old footage taken by priests at Djulfa, documenting the destruction of the khachkars by Azerbaijani soldiers, is installed on a wall adjacent to the prints — providing necessary context of the painful history by which these aesthetically pleasing artworks are informed.
The act of translating the original surface of the khachkars into drawings, digital images, and prints deals with the disruption and disturbance of identity that not only these monuments, but Armenian people, have experienced. It is a history still unknown to many, yet Convert’s project and the research of Simon Maghakyan and Sarah Pickman is a promising step towards uncovering these repressed histories.
Pascal Convert: Three Trees is on view at Galerie Eric Dupont (138 Rue du Temple, 75003 Paris) through November 23, 2019.