A group exhibition featuring 18 artists from the Armenian diaspora is to open at the Venice Biennale, and will according to the Armenian government, commemorate 100 years since the genocide of more than one million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War.
Turkish leaders found a scapegoat in the Armenian people, gradually taking away their civil rights until in 1915 the systematic extermination of Turkey’s Armenian population was officially declared. On June 15, 1915, Armenian Abstract Expressionist Arshile Gorky’s family was forced to embark upon a death march of 150 miles, travelling north to the border of Russian Armenia. They reached the city of Yerevan on July 16, struggling to survive, the family lived on the brink of starvation, with Gorky taking odd jobs as a carpenter and printer’s assistant, and carving women’s combs from bull and ox horns. In 1919, when Gorky was a mere 14 years old, his beloved mother died of starvation in his arms. Read his tragic story here.
Armenity will be held on the San Lazzaro degli Armeni island, which is home to an Armenian Catholic monastery and is also the headquarters of the Mekhitarist Order. Controversially, the exhibition in the national pavilion of Armenia, entitled ‘Armenity’ – displayed from 6 May to 18 October, will also include four works by the Paris-based, Turkish-Armenian artist Sarkis – who is representing Turkey at the biennial.
The curator of the exhibition and founder of the non-governmental organisation Art for the World, Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg said in a statement posted online: “In honour of the 100-year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Pavilion of the Republic of Armenia provided an occasion to rethink the notion of ‘Armenianess’, and broaden this reflection to the concepts of identity and memory, justice and reconciliation, in the name of which many contemporary struggles are still taking place.”
Sarkis will exhibit four works in the Armenian pavilion including ‘Danseuse dorée en haut du toit’ (2012) and ‘Atlas de Mammuthus Intermedius’ (2014). The latter work consists of a 150,000-year-old mammoth bone, incorporating the artist’s Swatch and Armenian lace. His work for the pavilion of Turkey, entitled ‘Respiro’, will be unveiled during the vernissage. “I hope that all the codes embedded in Respiro will offer openings and possibilities to revisit histories of humanity,” the artist stated.
The artist told The Art Newspaper that he has worked with von Fürstenberg on other projects since 1974. “I am fond of her idea of a constellation of artists from different parts of the world coming together [for Armenity]. I am also a teacher; I believe in new generations producing,” he says. “It is very important for me to keep the production going, for culture but also to keep the dialogue open. We are the link between two pavilions. We are the breath. Whoever thinks otherwise is free to think so, of course.”