ALMA Continues Collaboration with Museum of Fine Arts in ‘Words’ Exhibit

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WATERTOWN — Pieces from the collection of the Armenian Museum of America (ALMA) have been making their way around to numerous exhibits in Boston over the past few months.

At the end of last year, ALMA was one of 19 institutions that took part in the “Beyond Words” exhibit, and this spring it has loaned an object from its Genocide collection to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA).

This spring the Armenian Museum has an artifact included in the MFA exhibit, “I must tell you what I saw: Objects of Witness and Resistance.” Officially open to the public on March 30, this special installation in the Linde Family Wing includes objects and works of art that bear witness to the destruction and silencing of specific people groups, through violence, genocide, persecution and fear.

A twentieth century chalk mold chosen from the Armenian Museum’s collection is one of nine objects featured in the exhibit. Also included are: a painting by Armenian Genocide survivor Arshile Gorky, an ancient Assyrian relief depicting the deportation of the Babylonians,  J.M.W. Turner’s “Slave Ship” (1840), and a 19th-century Chinese vase that was painted over during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to protect it from destruction.

All the objects in the display are hauntingly connected by an exerpt from “The Dance” by Siamanto (Atom Yarjanian, 1910), an Armenian poet executed in a purge of intellectuals during the Armenian Genocide.

“Don’t be afraid; I must tell you what I saw so people will understand the crimes men do to men”

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The chalk mold in the exhibit on loan from ALMA was originally owned by Krikor Ouzounian, who persuaded the Ottoman army to spare him and his family during the Armenian massacres of 1894-96 by offering to make chalk for the Turkish Army. Ouzounian built a secret room when his factory expanded where he hid his family at the onset of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

Ultimately, Ouzounian perished during the Genocide, but his wife and other family members survived. When they were able to escape to the United States, they brought the chalk mold with them as a reminder of their former life and the means by which they were able to escape execution.

In conjunction with this exhibit in the Linde Family Wing is “Memories Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross.”

Second in Jewish population only to the Warsaw ghetto in German-occupied Europe, the Lodz ghetto in Poland was inhabited by more than 160,000 people when it was first occupied by German forces in 1939. Henryk Ross was one of those confined to the ghetto in 1940 and, as a photojournalist, was given role of bureaucratic photographer in one of the Nazi-regime controlled departments running the city.

Unofficially, and at great risk to himself, Ross was able to capture more than the bureaucratic ID cards and propaganda shots that the Nazis had ordered. Through his lens, Ross captured the brutal everyday realities, including starvation and hard labor, of life in a Hitler-designed ghetto. In an effort to preserve his photographs, Ross buried the negatives in 1944. One of 867 survivors, Ross returned after the liberation of Lodz by Soviet troops to unearth his memories.

According to the MFA, “’Memory Unearthed’ presents more than 200 of Ross’s powerful photographs, comprising a moving, intimate visual record of the Holocaust. The images are accompanied by artifacts, including Ross’s own identity card, and ghetto notices. An album of contact prints, handcrafted by Ross and shown in its entirety as the centerpiece of the exhibition, serves as a summation of his memories, capturing his personal narrative.”

Topics: ALMA

On display until July 30, these powerful MFA exhibits are a great visit choice during the month of April, which is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month.

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