The Armenian Creatives: Gently Forging Ahead

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Armenian Creatives 02: A Question Makes a Room for a Collaboration is an invitation to calm and to harmony. A seemingly incongruous mixture of materials — conversations, workshops and gatherings that the Creatives hope will ultimately help readers “build rooms of their own”— evidences the young artists’ peaceful and joyful existence, an existence many of us covet.

“A lace workshop practice brought peace to our conversation,” they write. Indeed, true to their mission, these men and women, initially centered in Brooklyn, New York, now spread to the far corners of the world, meet once a month to share what they have accomplished and what they dream of accomplishing. Theirs is an unwavering will to “further explore” and to “reinscribe our presence continually.”

The Anthology, the second in a projected series of publications foregrounding the activities of the group, is the outcome of gatherings the Collective decided to host in an effort to keep connected during the Covid 19 pandemic and lockdown. Questions were emailed to the members inviting them to participate in collaborative projects of mutual interest. Rehan and Deborah follow the visual details of photographs to “reconstruct cultural heritage.” Kamee and Knar “explore the spiritual and temporal qualities of physical belongings, and the sense of belonging they might evoke for both participants and audiences with their shared and respective ancestral lands, histories, and memory.” Reproduced in the book are photos of family heirlooms — pressed flowers from a lost garden, a bone comb, fabric fragment from an Ethiopian priest’s velvet umbrella etc. — that evoke our ancestral land and diaspora history. With a fascinating story behind each belonging, these objects highlight the artists’ awareness of the disruption caused by forced displacement.

Kamee tells of her great-grandmother’s (born in Adana) amniotic sac — dried with salt, folded up, sewn into cloth, and used as a good luck charm—that was borrowed and never returned “because war broke out.” Kamee and Knar’s project did, in fact, lead to their participation in Sunrise Stepanakert, a festival that gathered artists from Artsakh, Armenia and Diaspora in Stepanakert, in July 2022. The project has given birth to the Museum of Forgotten Belongings.

A rich collection of materials — flyers inviting the participants to the events, notes to be read “in anticipation of the event,” documents to be read “in memory of the event,” images with captions and descriptions, screenshots from workshops, links to websites and digital resources, and much more — help the reader imagine the gatherings and share in the process of creating intimate archives of “personal materials with easy access,” as an alternative to “gated archives.” Asking questions — the spiral of the Armenian question mark is the inspiration behind the design of the book cover—is a key ingredient of the process of building the archive. The goal is not to come up with absolute answers, but “to ease absences in each other, absences the artists see as “inherently part of our emotional and physical archives as Armenians.” The historical tragedy, the loss of 1915, is very much present in their consciousness, yet their gaze is fixed ahead on imagining possible futures, and on celebrating life.

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Armenian Creatives 02 reveals a radical understanding of creativity. Errors are perceived as part of the creative process. It is the artists’ belief that challenges are easier to overcome when imperfections are tolerated and confronted together. To this end, the collective organized, in April and May 2022, a series of gatherings of creative writing in Western Armenian asking the participants to respond to specific prompts. Mher writes of his grandmother’s continuous displacements in search of peace and of closeness to the community. Caroline recounts the treasured moment of one day taking a random walk with a friend in New York City, and ending at Washington Square Park where a piano player would drag his piano each night, from a storage space two streets down, to entertain his audience. These contributions are reproduced in the volume with no corrections or editing, the building of language being, for these pioneering spirits, a process in “perpetual translation and transcription.” The concepts explored in the volume may be difficult to grasp for many of us schooled in more traditional schools of thought where correctness and clear-cut answers are cherished values.

Yet, the artists’ embracing of errors as “freedoms” need not be perceived as a resistance to improving their competence. In fact, by encouraging the use of Western Armenian the sessions help with the efforts of preservation of Western Armenian in the Diaspora. As a token of their commitment to overcoming their “inadequacies” “without shame, fear or guilt,” the Creatives have included a pullout zine of an Armenian Erotic Glossary (with content warning), still a work in progress compiled by Levon and Hrayr, as part of the publication. The intent is not to shock or to be irreverent. These men and women have strong connections to their families and their heritage.

With their hands-on workshops and illustrations the Creatives come close to giving expression to the visceral, the inexpressible. Feelings, which they see as part of the material, physical presence of an object, and notions of connectivity, togetherness, warmth, affection and caring, become tangible and palatable. The aim, as stated by Katie, is “to make visible, ceaselessly.”

The Creatives have totally internalized their philosophy of working together and of caring for one another. There is no trace of disingenuity here. The needle lace and natural egg dyeing workshops—projects that may be perceived as simple and unsophisticated, and thus held in lower “esteem”—are genuinely enjoyed by this group of artists, architects, educators, all graduates of “esteemed” institutions. Ultimately, collaborating and supporting one another gives the artists the peace of mind and the safe haven, abahov degh meh, to borrow Alexia’s words, we all seek. It leads them home.

Ever since the group’s inception in July 2018, the creatives have been forging ahead with confidence boldly resisting “false premises,” in their deliberate yet non-coercive manner. Questions and remarks are ”whispered.” “As whispered in prior emails . . . ,” reads one “invitation to collaboration.” It is all done gently, tenderly, curiously, patiently. Indeed, along with “Needle!” “Thread!” and “Scissors!” “Patience!” is one of the materials Emma asks the participants to prepare in advance for the needle lace workshop she hosts.

The values the creatives hold dear acquire a unique significance at a time when committing genocides has become the order of the day. The artists’ gestures of “care and affection” might just be the perfect antidote to the madness humanity has immersed itself in. Combatting brutal force with “wisdom and grace” may be delusional. It is, nonetheless, delusion necessary if we are to reclaim the human species.

 

 

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