Artist Avedis Baghsarian

Curated Art Exhibit at Diocese

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By Taleen Babayan

Special to the Mirror-Specator

NEW YORK — The striking, handcrafted images on display, ranging from a blue dove enmeshed in red and orange hues, to the intricately coiled letters of the Armenian alphabet, marked the centennial anniversary of the first republic of Armenia, both in word and in deed, in a special art exhibition from May 17 to 19 at the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

Throughout the course of the weekend, close to 100 pieces from lifelong artist Avedis Baghsarian’s collection were sold to support the Fund for Armenian Relief’s Avedis and Arsho Baghsarian Scholarship Program, the mission of which is to educate talented young students in Armenia who are pursuing careers in journalism and the fashion industry.

Curated with diligence by Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian, an advisor to the Minister of Culture of Armenia, the event was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Armenia to the United Nations and the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) and sought to combine the influential art of Baghsarian while educating the next generation of creatives in the homeland.

Avedis Baghsarian with students from the Hovnanian Armenian Day School (Photo by Shoghag Hovanessian)

The filled-to-capacity crowd at the opening reception on Thursday, May 17, brought together supporters and art aficionados who had a chance to engage with Baghsarian, who has had an illustrious career photographing renowned figures, and to learn more about his process and inspirations behind each of his pieces.

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“Avedis is not only a pioneer in many artistic forms but he is also an inspiration to the younger generation,” said Hovanessian in her welcoming remarks. “In addition to his artistic talents, Avedis is a true philanthropist.”

Hovanessian reflected on Baghsarian’s career that has spanned six decades and includes multiple art forms, including sculpture and industrial design. While establishing himself on an international platform, he maintained his ties to his homeland and to the city he has lived in for over 50 years. During the emotional aftermath of September 11, Baghsarian was awarded a solo exhibition by Citibank, evoking his artistic take on the shadows of Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

“He is an accomplished artist, whose works have been recognized all around the world and today, you will be able to discover his art yourself,” said Hovanessian, who has championed artists in Armenia over the last 20 years to “keep them on the Armenian soil.”

“His talent in art and his love for Armenia is truly is an inspiration,” she concluded.

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design, Baghsarian, who is originally from Jerusalem, acknowledged the support of his wife, a successful shoe designer in her own right, who “stood by me during my days as an aspiring photographer and pushed me to follow my dreams.”

He expressed appreciation for Hovanessian’s effective leadership and insights, noting, “her drive and her knowledge of art was the force behind the show.”

Thanking guests for their support of the children of Armenia, he shared his artistic philosophy with humility.

“As far as the work, it is what I saw,” said Baghsarian. “Composers write music, writers what they feel and photographers capture what they see, and that’s what I did.”

Mher Margaryan, deputy permanent representative of Armenia to the UN, focused on the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia, reflecting on the country’s short life whose “historic lessons are still very relevant.” He cited the challenges facing Armenia but expressed confidence that “with the joint efforts of our compatriots in the Diaspora, we can realize the dream of many generations and have a strong and successful Armenia.”

(Armenia’s UN Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan was named the country’s new foreign minister earlier in the month.)

A testament to these joint efforts and connection of the Diaspora to the homeland are Ruzanna Gishyan and Armine Sahakyan, two recipients of the Avedis and Arsho Baghsaryan Scholarship Program, who shared their educational and professional updates, along with words of gratitude from Armenia.

Gishyan, who studied journalism and media studies at Yerevan State University, earning both her bachelor and master degrees with honors, is currently a journalist and news anchor at Radio Liberty Armenian Service.

“I love my work because it gives me an opportunity to truthfully present people’s lives and try to help those who are in need,” said Gishyan.

Sahakyan, who studies at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Armenia specializing in Fashion Design, also expressed her warm sentiments to the couple.

“It means so much to me that my benefactor has the same passion for creating arts as I do,” said Sahakyan, who is especially inspired by the Armenian alphabet and balances her art with service work, volunteering at FAR’s summer camp for orphans.

She looks forward to earning her diploma and presenting her first collection in a profession she “loves more and more every day.”

“We are proud to run the Avedis and Arsho Baghsarian educational fund that supports talented students to realize their dream of higher education,” said Garnik Nanagoulian, Executive Director of FAR, who along with Sandra Shahinian, a member of the Board of Directors, served as advisors to the exhibition. “Through this benefit exhibition we witnessed the magnificent art of a multi-talented Armenian-American artist, for whom being Armenian means to share together in a proud culture and heritage.”

An artistic work by Avedis Baghsarian representing peace and the colors of the Armenian flag, inspired by the flag raising ceremony at the United Nations in 1992.

That pride in the Armenian culture was instilled in Baghsarian by his family while growing up in Jerusalem’s Old City and it is what motivates his desire to fund art students in Armenia so they can nurture and pursue their creative visions, just as he did as a 10-year-old when, at the encouragement of his father, he apprenticed with a local photographer. Immigrating to the US in 1955 to continue his education, he was drafted into the U.S. Army where he served as a combat photographer, later opening his own photography studio where he focused on fashion and commercial assignments and won numerous awards in the ensuing decades. Shifting gears in 1992, Baghsarian fulfilled new artistic callings by designing and producing a collection of tabletop accessories, winning the prestigious International Design Magazine Award, while simultaneously publishing several photography books.

In a post-event interview, Baghsarian said he was “overwhelmed” at the opening reception, particularly by the “enthusiasm and excitement of guests.”

The highlight for him was interacting with the Armenian school students from the metro area, who visited the exhibition over the course of the weekend.

“I received so much satisfaction from meeting the students, who asked brilliant questions,” he said. He appreciated their dialogue and taught them that “the eye, not the camera” takes the photos.

The chance to meet with the artist in an educational platform was at the behest of Hovanessian, who recognized the importance of “the spiritual nourishment of art, particularly for young students.”

Baghsarian’s relationship with FAR dates back many years when he sold his large collection of sculptures and earmarked the proceeds for Armenian students, ultimately laying the groundwork for he and his wife’s scholarship program.

“I’m very proud to read the letters the scholarship recipients send us every year,” said Baghsarian. “Learning about their accomplishments and bright futures gives us great joy.”

Fostering the artistic ambitions of the next generation comes full circle for Baghsarian who “fell in love with photography” as an adolescent.

“I saw for the first time the process of making a print and I thought, that’s magic,” he said. Over the years, he perfected new techniques while formulating his own unique style, portrayed through his alphabets – a combination of his computer drawings and photographing certain patterns with his iPhone – as well as a photo of a symbolic dove, where Baghsarian intricately injected dyes with hypodermic needles and used a tiny brush air gun for effect.

The image, he says, was inspired by the raising of the Armenian flag at the United Nations in 1992, when he found himself explaining the colors of the flag to a curious bystander. “To me, red represents the past, blue as the color of peace and orange symbolizes harvest, which is the future.”

Baghsarian’s brand of contemporary art is in line with Hovanessian’s artistic inclinations and she praises his versatility and multi-pronged talents as an artist, while also being “completely devoted to helping students in Armenia,” an endeavor Hovanessian is equally dedicated to in her ongoing mission to shine the spotlight on artists from Armenia.

“The world is going toward contemporary art and it’s very important Armenia stays in step with the rest of the world,” said Hovanessian. “Armenia was behind the iron curtain for so long and now with the blockades, it’s difficult for artist to be introduced to the outside world.”

When Armenia gained independence almost three decades ago and the Diaspora began initiatives in the homeland, Hovanessian realized “no one was helping the artists survive,” so she took it upon herself to help pave the way for the country’s contemporary artists to receive recognition in the international arena.

“Art balances one’s life by expressing humanity and imagination while bringing emotions, desire and thoughts to light,” she said. “The past is already in the present, so we have to showcase new artists because if we don’t do it now, then when will we?”

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