LOS ANGELES — Step inside the storefront at 117 North Artsakh Avenue in Glendale, California, and you’ll find a quaint domestic setting. A dining table and chairs, set up for a meal, occupy the center of the room, while a jacket and hat rest on a coat rack to the left of the door, as if the occupant has just returned home. To the right, family portraits hang on the wall above a comfy-looking couch and coffee table. The only thing indicating that this is not, in fact, an actual family’s living space is that every object in the room, including wine glasses, lamps, and pillows, is painstakingly covered with over 100 pounds of lavash, an Armenian flatbread. It is a symbol of the food, the rituals, the traditions that figuratively bind Armenians together, wherever they live, across generations and oceans.
Titled “Breaking Bread,” the installation is one of three rooms that comprise My Relic, a public artwork created by the female artist group She Loves Collective. It was made possible by funding from the Glendale Arts and Culture Commission through its Urban Art Program, in recognition of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Month, anchored on Saturday, April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. (Significantly, President Biden has indicated that he will formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, making him the first US president to do so.) The three spaces offer complementary views on Armenian culture, through the lens of female Armenian artists living in the diaspora (Glendale is home to one of the largest Armenian communities outside Armenia). Through different interpretations of relics — cultural objects that connect generations — the show illuminates the power of tradition in allowing one to survive, heal, and move forward from trauma. “A relic is what is left of us, sometimes it’s just a faint memory, or the story of the object, almost like a dream,” exhibition curator Adrineh Baghdassarian told Hyperallergic. “This is who we are, not just one specific, generic item.”
The second room, titled “Relics,” is filled with 50 hanging banners printed with images of Armenian relics sourced from museums, churches, and family collections. They range from liturgical objects and jewelry, to family photos, rugs, and household items, and even a blanket brought to the United States by an orphan. The images provide a dynamic portrait of what Armenians have valued, what they decided to take with them when they left their homeland. One particularly striking banner is by photographer Armineh Hovanesian, who superimposed a self-portrait over an image of her grandmother Maryam. “She might not have a physical relic, but her genetics, her DNA is her relic,” explained collective member Ani Nina Oganyan.
One of Oganyan’s contributions to “Relics” is a family photo from roughly 1910, taken in Artsakh, the long-contested majority Armenian republic that was the site of a bloody 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan last fall — My Relic is dedicated to the Armenian people of Artsakh and the soldiers who lost their lives defending it. The photo depicts her maternal great-great-grandfather, who lived in Artsakh, holding her great-grandfather, Yervand Martirosyan, on his lap. Surrounding him are other members of his family as well as a neighboring Turkish family, a reminder of the bonds of common humanity that would be shattered a few years later with the start of the Armenian Genocide. “There was a time when they were neighbors,” Oganyan said wistfully.
The final room, titled “Reclamation,” is a hopeful finale that looks to the future. The floor is covered with mounds of dirt, from which spring forget-me-nots, symbols of the Armenian Genocide centennial. Pairs of white shoes sit on the earth, pointing towards a screen depicting Mount Ararat, a deeply significant site for Armenians that represents the dream of self-determination alongside the pain of territorial loss, having been located in Turkey for a century. The phrase “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds,” flickers across the screen. Instead of characters from the Latin alphabet, the words are composed using letters from the Armenian alphabet.
While grounded in Armenian history, My Relic speaks to the larger experiences of displacement, trauma, and resilience. “So many non-Armenian community members can relate to the ‘Reclamation’ room. We’ve had African-American community members say, ‘this piece speaks to me, it reminds me of our struggles,’” recalled Oganyan. She shared that another visitor with a Native American background came up to her crying after leaving the room. “‘This is exactly the history we have and we continue to live on American soil,’” she told her.
“I have seen 30 people come out of those doors with tears streaming down their faces,” said Baghdassarian. “As an artist and a curator, when I know we’re successful is when I can make people feel.”
My Relic, by She Loves Collective and curated by Adrineh Baghdassarian, continues at 117 North Artsakh Avenue (Glendale, California) through May 2. The She Loves Collective is comprised of Adrineh Baghdassarian (founder); Nelly Achkhen (co-Founder); Anaeis; Ani Carla Kalafian; Ani Grigorian; Ani Nina Oganyan; Armineh Hovanesian; Evleen Hacopian Bakhtamian; Helena Grigorian; Jack Hagopian; Leona Abrahamian; Mari Mansourian; Nairi Bandari; Rouzanna Berberian; and Taline Olmessekian.
Did You Know These Museums Were Free for New Yorkers?
The “Free Admission” campaign is advocating to make ticket pricing information more transparent to visitors, who may be confused or misled by institutions’ language.
AI Images Visualizing Trump’s Arrest Send Internet Into a Frenzy
The pictures, created using Midjourney, depict the former president’s greatest fantasy: being dragged away by police in front of the cameras.
Haggerty Museum of Art Presents Tomás Saraceno in Dialogue With Dr. Somesh Roy
The artist and researcher will explore soot’s effects on climate change and public health in this online conversation.
Some AI Artworks Now Eligible for Copyright
New guidance from the US Copyright Office sets some policies around AI-generated images.
NYC Hispanic Society Workers to Strike Indefinitely
One worker said the museum’s “skeletal” workforce bars the institution from functioning to its potential.
McKnight Visual Artist Fellows Discussion Series at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The series features 2021 Fellows David Bowen, Mara Duvra, Rotem Tamir, Ben Moren, and Dyani White Hawk in conversation with renowned curators and critics.
In Search of Inclusive South Asian Futurisms
We have been dangerously siloed for far too long by colonial constructs of race, nation, and time that separate, divide, and deny us our very being.
What Do Shtreimels and Cowboy Hats Have in Common?
A chance meeting on the subway introduced photographer Francesca Magnani to the multicultural world of Brooklyn milliner Richard Faison.
Nevada Museum of Art Presents Adaline Kent: The Click of Authenticity
For the first time in nearly 60 years, the innovative yet under-recognized artist is the subject of a retrospective exhibition. On view in Reno, Nevada.
Richard Hull Completes the Picture
Once known for his abstracted portraits, the Chicago artist is now exploring new directions.
You Too Can Have Your Art on a Postage Stamp
The process isn’t complicated, and thousands of people submit themselves for the talent pool every year.
The Public Theater in NYC Presents Plays for the Plague Year
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’s theatrical concert chronicles the 2020 lockdown and the hope and perseverance that emerged from it.
Bobby Wilson Combats Indigenous Stereotypes Through Humor
The artist-performer’s career undulates, ever so gracefully, across multiple mediums and registers of generational pain, healing laughter, and Indigenous joy.
Rare 19th-Century Silhouette Album’s Secrets Unlocked
Traveling portrait artist William Bache’s album depicts famous figures like Thomas Jefferson as well as people whose identity was previously unknown.