CHICAGO – To mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and the death and displacement of millions of Armenians, a descendant of the survivors has created an enormous work of art to both honor the victims and survivors and to celebrate the enduring strength and culture of the Armenian people.
Chicago artist Jackie Kazarian has titled the piece Armenia (pronounced “Hayasdan” in Armenian). It is the exact same dimensions (11.5 X 26 feet) as Pablo Picasso’s famous painting Guernica, an anguished response to Francisco Franco’s aerial bombing of defenseless civilians in Spain.
“People know what happened in Guernica because of that painting,” Kazarian said.
Armenia (Hayasdan) is the culmination of two years of historical research and a lifetime of memories for Kazarian, whose grandparents fled their birthplace in historic Armenia, now part of Turkey, before World War I and emigrated to the United States. Beginning in 1915, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, along with numerous Greeks, Assyrians and other ethnic minorities.
“The painting is a gesture of remembrance for the victims and survivors, but it is also meant to inspire conversation about how to promote understanding, compassion and tolerance amongst different communities of people,” said Kazarian. It portrays a semi-abstract landscape with images and text drawn from Armenian history and culture, such as illuminated manuscripts, ancient maps, church architecture, and Kazarian’s own family history and artifacts.
At the base of the painting are two open hands in a gesture the artist remembers from her grandmother, whose needle lace is also included in the work. The names of communities that suffered in the genocide are also depicted and are written in both Armenian and English.
Armenia (Hayasdan) was unveiled in Chicago at an opening reception in the artist’s studio at Mana Contemporary, 2233 S. Throop Street, on April 17 and will run through the end of May. Studies and a video are also available at www.project1915.org.
This painting is just one aspect of Project 1915, a non-profit Kazarian started to foster dialogue about genocide, tolerance and forgiveness. Project 1915 also includes panel discussions, and exhibitions outside Chicago, including one last winter in Watertown, Mass., at the Armenian Museum of America, and another one running from March 30- May 13 at Thompson Gallery, Cambridge School of Weston, Mass., called Kiss the Ground: A New Armenia. After the Chicago show, Kazarian plans to exhibit Armenia in communities across the United States and the world.
Photo: Artist Jackie Kazarian stands in front of her painting, “Armenia.” (Courtesy of Jackie Kazarian)