Arts and Culture

The other “mother Armenia” from the eyes of feminist photographers

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
This is the first time 10 women got together in Yerevan’s art scene to say “This is how I see Armenia.”
 
“These women see Armenia very differently: The situations in Army, border villages, refugees, national minorities, LGBTs, violence, disability… People think that there are no such phenomena… They imagine that Armenia should be depicted only through nice photos, landscapes and happy faces…”
 
This is what Nazik Armenakyan, an Armenian feminist photographer, says about the new exhibition her art center is hosting in Yerevan. This is the first time 10 women* got together to say “This is how I see Armenia”.
 
The name of the exhibition is “mOther Armenia” as lots of poems have been dedicated to Armenia, describing it as a “mother”. This documentary tells us something different and this Armenia is nothing like people have seen so far. The exhibition can be seen until the end of August, but first, start with getting to know these women and their important work.
Before we talk about the impressive exhibition you took part in, tell us about the art scene in Yerevan please.
Art has always been a language for raising awareness about important issues in Armenia. I can talk about the situation of documentary photography. Last year I joined forces with photographers Anahit Hayrapetyan and Anush Babajanyan, and created an initiative/collective called “4Plus Documentary Photography Center”. We see that Armenia has many young and emerging photographers. Our goal is to develop documentary photography. We organize events that help photographers, unite them, provide education, exhibit and show their work. We are also thinking about an online platform where we can show professional photo stories from Armenia.
 
What is the place of women like yourself in today’s current culture and arts?
The role of women is very unique in visual arts. When I started photographing, I was the first woman photographer. And no one believed that it is going to be my profession. Now I can say that 50% of photography in Armenia is done by women. The situation is very different: Women mostly work on photojournalism and documentary photography. It doesn’t mean that men don’t work in this field, but most of the men photographers are involved in commercial work.
 
Along with changing people’s perception and documenting the history, photography has a huge potential to having impact on large audience.”
 
How can art address social injustice and the role of women in modern Armenia?
Along with changing people’s perception and documenting the history, photography has a huge potential to having impact on large audience. Woman photographers mostly work on human rights issues here. With the appearance of social networks in the last 3-4 years, photographers have started to use their images to call attention to human rights violations and social injustice.
 
This is the first time in Armenia that 10 women photographers got together and said “this is how I see Armenia”. How do you see Armenia?
Yes, it was the first time that 10 women photographers were engaged in one project with one idea. We knew what exactly women photographers do in this field, on which project they work. That’s why we decided to give a chance to women photographers. They see Armenia very differently, they covered very different stories: About the situations in Army, border villages, refugees, national minorities, LGBT issues, violence, disability… People think that there are no such phenomena… They imagine that Armenia should be depicted only through nice photos, landscapes and happy faces…We presented in this show pictures from Other Armenia, stories that people heard of but have never seen before. 
 
Can you tell us about the photos you have contributed with? I remember one of the photos was a cover of Kaos GL Magazine’s “Borders” edition.
My part of this exhibition was a story titled “Mark of Loneliness”. It’s about transgender people in Armenia. They are predominantly gay youth who have been cast off from society, who cannot find another job because of their appearance and sexual orientation. Most of them were engaged in sex work. It may seem that they have found an easy way to make money, but, in reality, the work they have chosen is full of hardship and has no future.
 
How did you place your anti sexism, homophobia and transphobia stance in the exhibition?
I was worrying before the exhibition about how people would react to my photos and the decision to show these photos was very hard for me because there are a lot of homophobic people in art. But at the same time I know that even with negative impact photographs bring change and if you present something powerful maybe for the beginning it’s a shock for people but then having these images in their minds they start to think, analyze why I’m telling this story. Maybe that will change the attitude towards the people that I have been capturing for more than 3 years. 
 
The curator Svetlana Bachevanova said she entered the world of “mothers, professionals and social activists”. And the name of the exhibition was “mOther Armenia”. What kind of motherhood was issued in it? And why motherhood?
There are a lot of poems describing Armenia as a “mother Armenia”. In the beginning, we thought to call exhibition just “Mother Armenia” but when we received and choose all these stories for the show, we understood that it’s other side of realty. It’s something that people will not imagine as a mother Armenia. Then we decided to title the exhibition “mOther Armenia”. The other important factor was that most of woman photographers who were involved in this exhibition, besides being women, are mothers. And they work and are very active together with having a family, children and pregnancy.
 
*The photographs in the album are by (in order): Anahit Hayrapetyan, Anush Babajanyan, Hasmik Hayrapetyan, Inna Mkhitaryan, Knar Babayan, Mery Aghakhanyan, Nazik Armenakyan, Nelli Shishmanyan, Piruza Khalapyan and Sara Anjargolian.

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mOther Armenia

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