She Loves Collective Creates Memorable Relics
through May 2
Written by Genie Davis
MY RELIC offers an immersive and contemporary view of Armenian culture, people, and adversities. Created by the She Loves Collective and the Armenian female artists who make up the collective’s membership, the exhibition is an impressive series of three pop-up exhibitions in Glendale storefronts.
Each of the three installations examines healing, history – both personal and cultural, and conceptual practices such as sharing food, collecting heirlooms, and staking claim to the past and the future of both the artists’ families and culture alike. The exhibition is dedicated to the Armenian people of Artsakh, from soldiers lost to families who lost homes and homeland, and prisoners of war still captive today. Curated by collective founder Adrineh Baghdassarian and produced by Ani Nina Oganyan, the full list of contributing She Loves Collective artists, volunteers, and exhibitor thanks, follows at the end of this article, as provided by Baghdassarian.
The three-part exhibition was inspired by concepts and ideas Baghdassarian had for several years which evolved and grew after sending friends a link to an application for an Armenian Genocide Remembrance grant. In applying, she began to put her concepts in writing and “make magic happen.” She says the ability to fully reveal “the creative genius behind a group of not only female artists, but Armenian female artists” is the exhibition’s purpose.
Multiple artists made the concepts of the three pop-ups come into being. Baghdassarian says the show originated from an idea to celebrate Armenian culture and traditions in a contemporary fashion. “As an artist and creator, I feel the Armenian [culture] has so much to offer, moving past genocide and victimhood, with a strong narrative of survival. Twelve female Armenian artists, and about eight volunteers worked on MY RELIC, each of them contributing their ability to each room.”
Each installation is beautifully unique. The most solemn is “Reclamation”, which uses a mix of printed photography on canvas, donated and upcycled shoes, dirt, grass, flowers, lentils and wheat seeds, rocks and pebbles, and chicken wire as well as miscellaneous construction debris to create a remembrance of civilians and soldiers who fought and perished in the recent 44-day border struggle, the Turkish-backed Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Fall 2020. Planted in homage and remembrance in the dirt, the shoes are positioned to appear as if they are moving toward the mountain of Ararat, and represent memories, consciousness, the reclamation of lives and land lost, as well as fierce survival.
“Breaking Bread” employs the use of a very special medium – 90 pounds of lavash, applied with glue and positioned with water, placed on recycled or donated furniture and home goods. The thin, soft flatbread that is traditionally baked in clay ovens originated in Armenia and is a traditional staple of the Armenian diet. Here, the bread forms a kind of surreal, lush blanket that covers both physical furniture and the psychic wounds of generations of Armenians. Its white and brown texture recalls blotched, aged, or wounded skin. It literally takes over the physical room, a strange and haunting visual experience that is both salve and regeneration. It’s a phenomenal work that’s technically dazzling; an intimate and impermanent sculptural installation.
Using digital prints on polyester fabric, “Relics” is perhaps the most traditionally presented space in terms of medium. Poignant and powerful, this installation features 50 suspended, transparent banners with images of relic-objects printed on them. Those relics were provided by museums, churches, private family collections, archives, and books from Armenian communities worldwide. Suspended from the ceiling, images in some cases overlap or create a kind of double exposure through layering, providing resonant story and memory, loss and tribute. Over some of the images, there are drawings of relics by non-Armenian artists, who add their own memories of loss.
Baghdassarian says the exhibition’s artists sought to “activate and amplify the voices and memories of genocide and similar traumas – not only the Armenian Genocide.” She explains that each piece “explores the ability to heal, move forward, and grow through a variety of themes broadly construed as ‘relics,’ translating the concept from the lexicon of the sacred and historical… relics are also non-static objects, ever-living, that narrate and construct… aiming to generate a new narrative, that we are not victims, we are survivors, and we will never be silenced. We stand for humanity, peace, and justice.”
According to her, the exhibition was born from an alliance of female artists who all “share a strong belief in the power of creating social change through art.” However, she notes that the underlying purpose of the exhibition is to raise awareness, shedding light on the issue of a genocide that took place 106 years ago, which remained unrecognized by the American government until this week, a fact that also caused poor media coverage of the September 2020 war in the region. Along with awareness, the three pop-ups serve “as an ode to our culture, our ancestors, and of course the thousands of soldiers and families who lost their lives and their right to exist on their ancestral homelands.”
The format of the exhibition – using windowscapes that are viewable at all times – was in part due to the pandemic and city guidelines. However, Baghdassarian says that having the exhibition viewable 24 hours a day led to it being more accessible. “There is nothing more important to us as a collective than bringing art to as many eyes as possible. We strongly recommend visiting after sundown to really see each exhibit at its full potential.”
While the installations were primarily viewable only through the windows, one was so unique that it called for the creation of an additional viewing space. “For ‘Breaking Bread’, which depicts a living space covered in over a hundred pounds of lavash, we ended up creating a little balcony to allow viewers to step in and close the door behind them for an immersion experience,” Baghdassarian notes. “This allows for the muting of the street sounds, for the visitor to be surrounded by music, and smell the faint scent of the bread.”
The other two installations allow clear viewer experiences from the windows. “In the installation ‘Relics’, the juxtaposing of the tapestries allows them to be viewable clearly…and there is a television set up close to the window that has a Power Point with slides of each relic and its description. In ‘Reclamation’, we felt this was, of the three spaces. the best utilization of space. The trapezoidal opening with raised windowscapes were utilized to create a scene depicting ‘chaos’ and ‘turmoil’ representative of war.”
Each artist contributed to each exhibition, Baghdassarian attests. “The 12 artists along with several volunteers, really did come together and made the creative journey just as much a part of the art as the final product. Everyone had tasks, contributed where they felt their abilities were strongest, dedicated whatever hours they possibly could to accomplish such a large task, in under 15 days.”
Along with the three MY RELIC installations, the She Loves Collective has an additional work on display, “The Rifles Our Ancestors Didn’t Have”. That exhibition is virtual, presented by the Glendale Library Arts & Culture and ReflectSpace Gallery as part of Sites of Fracture: Diasporic Imaginings of Occupied Artsakh that brings together diasporan Armenian artists to create counter-narratives to the forces of occupation and cultural erasure in the Republic of Artsakh.
MY RELIC’s three immersive pop-up exhibits are on view through May 2nd, and are located at 117, 123, &127 N. Artsakh Ave. in Glendale.
Contributing Collective Artists:
Ani Carla Kalafian
Ani Nina Oganyan
Evleen Hacopian Bakhtamian
Aram and Helen Yeremian
City of Glendale Arts and Culture Commission
City of Glendale Economic Development Department
Ararat Eskijian Museum
Armenian Museum of America, Boston, MA
Dr. Chuck Hajinian
Dr. Leon Saryan
Lusik Aguletsi Collection
Morgan Library and Museum
Sylvie L. Merian