NEW YORK — On Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 7:00pm ET, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present the digital world premiere of Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian and Oscar-nominated Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s MetLiveArts commission, “They Will Take My Island” (2020), a highly personal 30-minute video with performances by the JACK and Silvana string quartets.
“They Will Take My Island” (2020) is a collaboration between Kouyoumdjian and Egoyan over their mutual admiration of the Armenian painter Arshile Gorky, who has been highly influential to their work. It is a musical documentary hybrid infused with themes of family and immigration. The work integrates audio and film footage from Egoyan’s Ararat, a film that explores Gorky’s life in the context of the Armenian Genocide and modern life, and A Portrait of Arshile, a film Egoyan and his wife Arsinée Khanjian made in dedication to their son, named after the painter. It also includes interviews with Saskia Spender, granddaughter of Gorky and president of the Arshile Gorky Foundation; Parker Field, managing director of the Arshile Gorky Foundation; and Michael Taylor, chief curator of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
“They Will Take My Island” was originally scheduled to premiere in March 2020 as part of a portrait concert celebrating Kouyoumdjian’s music, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When Atom and I created They Will Take My Island, we reflected on the Armenian Genocide through the lens of one individual artist and his own processing of such horrors through his art making,” writes Kouyoumdjian. “In a way, Gorky’s creative work invited us to process our own identities as descendants of survivors and to choose how and what we amplify with our artistic voices. We never would have anticipated that history would devastatingly repeat itself in our present. With the current conflicts over indigenous Armenian lands, deliberate ethnic cleansing and loss of life, mass displacement, and historic art and cultural structures being erased, we feel not only a responsibility to celebrate our culture as best as we are able, but to shout for aid and attention on the Armenian community as we all confront this global humanitarian crisis together.”
Egoyan says, “In this moment where the frailty of an ancient heritage is so clear, when we can already see the Armenian presence being erased from historical lands, we are offering a meditation on the transmission of culture. ‘They Will Take My Island’ begins with a photograph of a young Arshile Gorky with his cherished mother, taken in the city of Van just before the Armenian Genocide of 1915. It ends with an image taken in the Art Gallery of Ontario, where Gorky’s painting ‘They Will Take My Island’ hangs today. How the complex story of this great Armenian-American artist shifted from an island located in Lake Van and migrated to a studio in New York is at the root of the exploration Mary and I have taken to create this piece. Given the current threats against national Armenian heritage, we feel this work is particularly urgent.”