Online seminar - Armenian painterly modernity and the Union of Armenian Artists (1916-21) -12 June
Date: 12 June 2023
Speaker: Sato Moughalian, City University of New York Graduate Center
This talk considers the artistic formations of four Armenian painters who came to maturity before the Great War, and the proto-national institution they founded in 1916—the Union of Armenian Artists—in the wake of the Ottoman Young Turk regime's 1915-18 campaigns of anti-Armenian mass violence, dispossession, and forced migration, the constellation of events that has come to be known as the Armenian Genocide. What role did mass violence play in an artistic turn toward the national frame? Until 1915, the four artists—Russian-Armenians Vardges Sureniants (1860-1921), Yeghishe Tadevosyan (1870-1935), and Martiros Sarian (1880-1972), and Ottoman-Armenian Panos Terlemezian (1865-1941)—who were born and raised in diverse Armenian cultural nodes, studied in state and private academies across Eurasia, and participated in varied collectives and movements, including the Peredvizhniki, Mir Iskusstva, and Blue Rose. Their encounter in the autumn of 1915 at the site of refugee encampments, crystallised the formation of an Armenian-identified national art institution that mounted six major exhibitions between 1917-21, years marked by multiple wars, famine, a short-lived independent Armenian Republic (1918-20), and its subsequent Sovietisation.
The exhibitions themselves, catalogues and other ephemera, and vigorous debates in the Armenian press over a national art, constituted an ecosystem of identity that manifested, in the modern period, the longstanding Armenian construct of nation, a shared mentality maintained even in the absence of a territorialised state. Although the organisation was denounced in the Soviet period and largely suppressed from public memory, the Union of Armenian Artists offers an example of national identity creation on the cultural plane, both distinct from and entangled with the concurrent and more widely studied efforts of its hegemonic neighbours.
Sato Moughalian is completing an interdisciplinary MA in Liberal Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center and will enter the Modern European History PhD cohort there in the autumn of 2023, where she will continue to research intersections of Armenian visual culture with mass violence and state formation, from the late nineteenth century through the early Soviet era. She is also a professional flutist, with more than 40 chamber music recordings, and the author of Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian (Redwood, CA: Stanford University Press), a biography of her grandfather. The book was longlisted for the 2020 PEN America/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Biography Award and a finalist for the American Association of Publishers' 2020 Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) Awards in Biography & Autobiography.