“Aram Khachaturian,” oil on canvas, 1982, by Gourgen Manoukian

Gourgen Manoukian Preserves Armenian Traditional Costumes and Creates New Art


WATERTOWN — Gourgen Manoukian is a multitalented artist. A painter, he has not only created watercolors and oils, but also done set design for films and graphic arts.

Born in Yerevan in 1937 from a family of refugees from Van (his grandfather participated in the battles for the defense of Van during the Armenian Genocide), he graduated middle school in 1954 and from 1956-63 worked at Yerevan’s Russian Theater as a set designer.

He studied from 1965 to 1970 at Moscow’s Applied Art Faculty of the Textile Institute. After graduation, he began work in 1971 at HayFilm, the Armenian state film company, and Armenian television studios, as art director. As such, his artistic credits extend to around 40 art films and television productions. His artistic interests extend to Armenian traditional costumes, graphic arts, and cinema.

“Traditional Armenian Women’s Costumes,” oil on canvas, 1980, by Gourgen Manoukian

His best known films include “Hayrik,” “Kaos,” “Hetsyal, orin spasum ein,” “Depi Sasuntsi Davit,” “Spitak aper,” “Jur mer hanapazorya,” and “Hrazhesht sahmanits ayn koghm” but he also has created many paintings and watercolors.

Manoukian declared, “My paintings of the great figures of Armenian culture are my favorites, like Komitas, Aram Khachaturian, or Khrimian Hayrik.” When asked how long it takes him to complete a painting, he said, “Some are created over years, stopping and starting, others very quickly.”

Manoukian immigrated to the Boston area in the 1990s, after having two exhibitions of his work here, including a big one at the Armenian Museum of America.

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Last year, he published the art book Haykakan taraz [Armenian Costumes] through Antares in Yerevan. This work is the culmination of decades of research and labor. Back in 1972, when he was working in Moscow on the film “Hayrik,” Manoukian went into a bookstore and saw a fancy album which had images of Armenian costumes. However, they were presented as Turkish ones. Upon returning to Yerevan he swore to himself that he would eventually prepare a work presenting information on Armenian traditional costumes, and so he did.

His 183-page, large-size volume presents the various styles of Armenian traditional clothing which survived to the beginning of the 20th century and even to the present. It also includes some improvisations created by the author based on traditional styles. It begins with a brief Armenian-and English-language introduction by the author, and contains words of praise by Armenian Academician Ruben Zaryan, well known artist Grigor Khanjyan and writer Tatul Sonentz-Papazian of Boston.

Manoukian said, “I have worked for many years to restore Armenian traditional costumes from ancient times to the present. I have attempted to the best of my abilities to restore and recreate certain lost costumes, which are unknown not only to the world at large but also to many Armenians.”

Gourgen Manoukian (photo Aram Arkun)

Manoukian will be presenting his book in the spring in Detroit for the Tekeyan Cultural Association, in Providence, and possibly also in other cities of the US.

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