By Aram Arkun
NEW YORK — Cubist-Impressionist Simon Samsonian (1912-2003) painted for six decades in Egypt and in the United States. Orphaned as a toddler by the murder of his parents and separated from his sister for decades, he was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide whose work became well known in Egypt. After moving to the United States, he continued painting, but, over the years, fell out of the spotlight. Now, his family, primarily his daughter Hilda Semerdjian and her son Alan, is trying to restore his place in the pantheon of significant internationally known painters.
Alan Semerdjian is a writer, artist, musician and teacher. His first full-length book of poems reflects growing up in Samsonian’s presence. In a recent interview he spoke about how the family is attempting to promote interest in Samsonian’s legacy.
Samsonian was moved from orphanage to orphanage in the Ottoman Empire and Greece, and eventually transferred to Egypt. He did not even learn of his true surname (Klujian) until relatively late in life in 1960, when he was reunited with his sister in Alexandria, Egypt. He attended the Kalousdian Armenian School of Cairo, and then won a scholarship to go to the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in the same city. He later returned to the Kalousdian school to become its art teacher, and began to exhibit his paintings widely. In the 1950s, he visited the great art museums of Europe.
In 1961, he had a solo exhibition at le Salon de Caire, and an Egyptian Minister of Culture for the first time ever personally inaugurated the exhibit of an Armenian’s works. During the 1960s, President of the Egyptian National Assembly Anwar Sadat, later to become Egypt’s president, acquired one of Samsonian’s paintings and wrote him a letter of praise. Several of Samsonian’s pieces are held by the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art in Cairo.