Armenian contemporary art and cultural divides were on the minds of international scholars, artists, and musicians who gathered in Alfred Lerner Hall to participate in a day-long forum on the Armenian diaspora and artistic development on Saturday.
The forum, which was held by the Armenian Club, addressed questions of contemporary Armenians about their culture’s perceived shortcomings.
“We feel like there is an absence of representation when it comes to contemporary Armenians’ diasporatic culture. We are less concerned about the causes—we want to bring light to the present day,” said Neery Melkonian, the forum’s organizer and an independent art critic and curator in New York.
Melkonian, who has become involved with Armenian culture through her work, said that she felt that too much of contemporary Armenian culture had been lost in a society that continually focuses so much on the past. She mentioned that in the art world, Armenia has only one well-known contemporary painter—Arshile Gorky—and even so he has been dead for sixty years.
The forum also explored the historically poor relations between Armenia and the bordering Turkey. After conflicts arising from Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Turkey closed its border to Armenia in 1993, and tensions have long been strained.
A Turkish national in attendance, who is currently residing in the United States while pursuing his Ph.D. in sociology at the New School, said that he was particularly interested in hearing a dialogue on the complicated relationship between the Armenians and the Turks. “I don’t have expectations,” he said. “I am Turkish and this is the land where everything happens, so I just want to listen.”
Event organizers said that the forum was meant to take a cultural look at Armenia, and not a strictly political one. “The event plays really well into the mission of the Armenian Club [at Columbia]—we are a cultural group,” said Shaunte Baboumian, BC ’09 and Armenian Club president.
The event was partially sponsored by the Ellen Sandrik Foundation for Human Rights. Annie Sandrik, the chair of the foundation, said she was excited about the event as it was unique in its discussion of Armenian culture. “I have found this [the event] even questions things outside the usual box of Armenian culture,” Sandrik said. “It is creative and different, and it questions all the values that we usually have.”