New Illuminations artist residency took place in October, 2019 in Gyumri, Armenia.
It was a very successful residency.
The goodness of this residency so exceeded my plans that each day was full of stories which reveal more of the overall landscape of women’s lives in Gyumri. So much happens on any given day, even on the slow days off when I walk the streets of Gyumri with a friend, the entire experience is an overwhelmingly loving and positive and difficult and stunning exchange of life force. I take in these impressions and seek to write and photograph and stitch books that tell this story.
Like about the day I spent with the Advanced Artists in an Open Studio. We sewed our books, discussing our mutual future when we got a call that a local circus family had set up a tightrope nearby. We dashed over to watch. I met a 12-year-old tightrope walker whom I will interview next October. This girl walked like an angel in the noisy air above a busy Gyumri street. She trained with a brown sack on her head. This was to teach her to withstand distraction.
I must tell you about another angel.
I met Arev Petrosyan one year ago in Yerevan, when I learned that she is the first woman in Armenia to open her own art gallery. Arev, which means sun in Armenian, paints large-scaled mixed-media compositions, uniting themes from ancient Armenian visual art with very contemporary colorways that dance before your eyes.
Upon learning about New Illuminations in 2018, Arev asked me, “How can I help?” I sat in her beautiful gallery in busy central Yerevan. Without a thought I said, “Would you consider hosting a pop-up exhibition here next year of the work of the advanced artists?” Also without blinking, she said yes.
I arrived at her gallery this past October having made plans with Arev over email about date and time. Beyond that, we had work to do in-person. Those plans went easily. I was to deliver new work from the New Illuminations artists by a certain hour on Saturday, November 1 and she would set up an evening exhibition to take place that very night.
Arev used her extensive network of supporters and friends to gather a large circle of interested people in Yerevan for our exhibition on Saturday evening, November 1. Her publicity and contacts led to many press opportunities, including this piece written from the perspective of our first exhibition in Gyumri on October 31 by Samson Martirosyan.
One thing that happens when you enter Arev Art gallery is this. If you are tall your head touches a cloud of papers that dangle from strings at the entry to her gallery. Tall or short, you pluck one down, as a message from the skies, some portent of your near future at your fingertips. Magic.
Nevertheless, I persist
In my visit to her in early October at the beginning of my residency, I pulled down the paper that had knocked me in the forehead. It was written in Russian. I handed it to Arev who read it and sent up a laugh saying, “This is perfect for you! This is you! This is so you!”
Still no translation. This took a little time. From what I gleaned my paper bore an old Russian aphorism that said, “like a bird flying into the wind, she persists.”
She persists? How long has this aphorism been around I wondered. I had to tell Arev and her assistants about the political moment in 2017 when Elizabeth Warren nevertheless persisted.
I would happily take up the title of “Persistent” in regard to New Illuminations!
Due to my persistence and the persistent support of this community and the rich beating hearts of those persistent Armenians artists, New Illuminations has come to be recognized in Armenia as a force for positive change in that county.
Another example of this is angel who appearted at Arev Art. US Ambassador to Armenia, Lynne M. Tracy, arrived at the exhibition planning to stay only ten minutes. She quickly set to meeting the artists of Gyumri, whom I had booked a bus to carry them to Yerevan for the exhibit. She stayed for 2 hours, purchased journals and spoke directly to the artists of each book, making a giant impression of joy and support of our work. As did the many other people who attended that exhibition and the one the evening before in Gyumri at Herbs & Honey.
People are touched by the beauty of the books and the work of the artists.
They are curious, what is the story of this artist?
This question propels us forward in to 2020.
Please know that without your support, sharing this project with your people, I would be lonely. Even on those dark evenings in Gyumri, when I have eaten dinner at Herbs & Honey and stroll home on the dark streets savoring the Armenian evening, I think of all of you, so far away, and yet so present.
Your witness has made a difference in my life, and in the lives of many many people in Gyumri and beyond.
For being our persistent angels, I send you all of my thanks.
The images in this post are by a variety of photographers. This small gallery of 4 is by Vaghinak Ghazaryan of 4 Plus.