BROOKLYN, N.Y. – In July 2018, a group of Armenian artists residing in Brooklyn, New York, formed Armenian Creatives to fulfill “an urgent need for togetherness . . . to hold a space that we couldn’t find prior.” Ever since the group’s inception, these emerging artists have been getting together for monthly free-form get-togethers to exchange artistic ideas, discuss projects, and “to cultivate a community of integral support and infectious creativity.” These workshops, usually potluck events at the members’ homes, are models of collaboration. One member describes the group as “a composition of people inherently based on negotiation through its very acts of gathering.”
Armenian Creatives 01: Transcription__the Space Before Translation (Winter 2021) is the group’s inaugural publication in a projected series of bi-annual publications. The book enacts a whole process of initiating a workshop, of inviting, meeting and conversing, with the focus always on the activity at hand, never on the end product. One would hesitate to even describe the publication as a “book,” a word replete with connotations of authorship and of a finished product. Indeed, Transcription__the Space Before Translation attempts to deconstruct the traditional perception of a book, focusing instead on the archival documentation of the group’s activities, “not only to tell stories of the past or to exist for future eyes, but to balance the presence shared in a moment.” The book’s 114 pages validate the process by which it came into being, ultimately making the process the product.
Assembled in Armenian Creatives 01 are the invitations to the monthly get-togethers, thoughtfully and tastefully designed meeting flyers, instructions to prepare for the workshops, transcriptions of entire conversations at the meetings, and much more. Every featured item evidences the support the members have for one another. There are no hierarchies here, no author’s name on the book cover. The contributors are listed, but not matched with their specific contributions in the table of contents. Even members who attended the meetings, but who are not featured in the publication, are humbly acknowledged in the credits. These creatives certainly practice what they preach. The respect they have for one another is palpable on the pages of their compilation.
Most appealing is the enthusiasm, and also the seriousness, with which the members approach their various tasks. For example, these young adults make no attempt to mask their thrill at discovering an old Armenian proverb like chem oozer, krbans teer, Arevn ampi dak chi mnah, or tershoo yeghank. For the most part, the meetings revolve around simple topics like a favorite recipe, a family photograph, or a word or utterance used as a catalyst for discussion. These discussions may not involve complex proposals, yet they engage the reader with their relevance to her own experiences and their sophistication. An interesting segment is the conversation around the word odar, where each member was asked to share her relationship to the word and of how she has lived with it. Another interesting exercise involves the discussion of disappearance in memory and architecture. The many photographs and the illustrations, on the other hand, the images of postcards and other items the participants bring to the meeting entertain with their variety and originality.
The Armenian creatives make no claim to Armenianness as a unified cultural, geographical or linguistic concept, yet their passion for everything Armenian and their awareness of the need to make that special effort to stay connected, given a history of displacement, is central to their vision. “We print this as Armenians presently face continued displacement in Artsakh,” they write. Even when hardly fluent in or unable to read and write Armenian, their commitment to their Armenian identity is unmistakable. In her essay on translating Zahrad’s poems, done in collaboration with Mher Tarakjian, Caroline Partamian writes: “Translating one of Zahrad’s poems may not be of direct benefit to preserving the Armenian language, but it can be one way of introducing people to Armenian history and culture, and therefore one avenue of preserving our Armenian identity.”
Armenian Creatives 01 is self-published, “printed and bound in USA, on Indigenous land,” a most unobtrusive way of expressing the group’s strong political stance of solidarity with liberation movements, which must surely include “investing in efforts to recognize Artsakh and Armenians’ right to peace and self-determination.” In fact, the reader is never allowed to forget that “we are gathered as Armenians.”